Before Covid-19, for most white-collar jobs, working from home was seen as something to be avoided, based on the idea that congregating in one place spurs productivity, innovation and camaraderie, enabling easier supervision.
The current pandemic, and the strict lockdowns it brought, forced companies to embark on a gigantic experiment in homeworking, allowing many workers to continue doing their jobs and many businesses to continue operating. Shifting work to home partially cushioned the negative shock brought by the various lockdowns in the economy, stabilized incomes for some, and provided crucial support services for many industries, firms, and institutions.
Now, as more people are getting vaccinated and the relief of some restrictions imposed by the pandemic starts to be a reality, the debate about the future of in-office working becomes even more relevant and the universal anti-home working mindset seems to be gone.
Some companies expect all workers to be back at their desks, an idea supported by, for example, David Solomon, boss of Goldman Sachs, or even James Gorman, boss of Morgan Stanley, based on the belief that remote workers are less engaged with the company and thus less productive. However, many firms are opening up to the possibility of their employees pursuing “hybrid” work, such as UBS and many technology companies, moved by the fear of losing talented tech workers, that may be getting more footloose.
Across regions and industries evidence suggests that people like the ability to work from home at least occasionally. A pool of 2000 American adults by Prudentialound that only one in five American employees say they would seldom or never want to work from home.
At the same time, many workers of all ages are still keen to work at the office. In fact, Salesforce, a business-software implementing a work-from-anywhere model, found that although nearly half its employees are opting to stay home, four in five want to maintain a physical connection with the corporate office.
All this suggests that remote work may start to be faced as an opportunity by companies rather than just a last resort, with hybrid systems starting to become a tendency in most places.
These new features of work also bring new challenges for which companies need to be prepared. In fact, employees who remotely worked from home suffered from increased work-to-life and life-to-work conflicts (Palumbo, 2020).
In light of this, it will be crucial that companies make sure their employers have personal and logistical support that allows them to continue to work safely while maintaining or even increasing productivity.
- “A hybrid new world”, 2021, The economist
- Palumbo, R. (2020), “Let me go to the office! An investigation into the side effects of working from home on work-life balance”, International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 33 No. 6/7, pp. 771-790.
- Pennington, A. and Stanford, J., 2020, “Working from Home: Opportunities and Risks”, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute