Millions of people have been working from home for the past decade. But in the wake of the Covid-19 shutdowns, these numbers are expected to jump exponentially. And the ramifications will be felt in some significant ways.

Four Big Shifts That Are Under Way

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, roughly 7 percent of U.S. workers had the option of regularly working from home full time--a sizable chunk, but still a definite minority.

During this pandemic, as many as 66 percent of employees are working from home. Of this group, 44 percent are working remotely five days or more per week. And even after Covid-19 is neutralized and life resumes to normal, experts are projecting that remote work will continue to see a huge lift.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, which continually tracks the data and trends, 25 to 30 percent of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021. This increase will be driven by increased demand from remote employees, reduced fear about working from home among managers and executives, increased awareness of the cost-savings of remote work, increased pressure for disaster preparedness, and additional awareness of the impact of work-from-home sustainability.

As a result of this long-term movement, experts in various industries are anticipating some key shifts in business and real estate. Here are a few of them:

1. Rise of Co-Working Spaces

In the short term, co-working spaces have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 virus as much as anyone else. Most have been forced to shut down, and many have been vacant for months. But as we (hopefully) see things improve, it's likely that co-working spaces will come back stronger than ever.

Co-working spaces are more essential than ever. They provide a place for people to work--particularly those who can't work from home or don't have the necessary resources to do so. Co-working spaces like Novel Coworking come with high-speed internet, printers, office supplies, and other amenities that some home offices don't have.

There's also a cost-effective nature to co-working spaces. Expenses are essentially shared by the members, which allows remote workers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to access resources that would otherwise cost too much to obtain individually. This will prove important in the years to come.

2. Diminished Value of Office Space

Experts in the real estate industry are quick to zero in on the notion that Covid-19 could fundamentally change the face of commercial real estate--particularly the value of office space.

With millions of people shifting to remote work--either working from home or in a co-working space--there won't be as much need for large corporate offices. This begs the question, what will happen to office space in massive high rises?

Over the years, it's entirely possible that we could see real estate reimagined with more residential apartments and housing. This isn't a near-future trend, but it's something that's certainly on the horizon over the next 10 to 15 years.

3. Changes in Residential Real Estate

Another interesting consideration is how the shift to remote work will change residential real estate. If people are able to work remotely, they're no longer tied down to one city. Why would someone making $50,000 per year stay in Manhattan when he could move to South Carolina where the cost of living is far lower? This is something to keep an eye on. (You might also see more transient remote workers--people who hop around from state to state or country to country while working the same job.)

4. Increase in Outsourcing

Finally, it's important to think about what remote working will do to the American workforce. If a company shifts all of its employees to remote status, managers and executives may eventually wonder, "What's the point in having employees? Can't we just outsource everything and slash our payroll expenses?" This could lead to an increase in gig workers or a major shift in labor to foreign markets (like China and India).

Opportunities for Action

Though it's easy to see these shifts as a negative, there will be plenty of entrepreneurs who come out of this pivot in a much better spot. Opportunities are always forged out of change, and it's the savvy, forward-thinking leaders that will leave this pandemic better off than before.

For example, there's a better chance than ever to lower overhead costs and increase profitability by ditching corporate office space and instead taking your business entirely virtual. In doing so, you rid your business of expensive leases and utilities and simultaneously increase productivity (fewer hours commuting equals more hours to produce).

From a leadership perspective, there will be an even greater opportunity for consultants to widen their product offerings and offer cost-effective services to more clients. In terms of new product offerings, consulting a business on how to manage the practical details of the virtual shift will become profitable.

In terms of how these services are delivered, being able to work remotely means consultants no longer have to exclusively focus on local or regional businesses. They can now expand nationally and even internationally to offer their services to more businesses than ever before.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It's always been impossible to predict the future, but it's especially challenging now. We don't know what next week holds, let alone where things will stand in one, three, or five years. But if you study the data and anticipate the trends, it's clear that things are shifting. The best thing employees and entrepreneurs can do is be flexible. A willingness to adapt will open up plenty of opportunities.