WFH, forever? Inside the future of work from home

Lessons from the pandemic about where remote work is headed

May 18, 2020 | Editorial | Jobs | Business
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More than half the country is WFH

The pandemic and its accompanying health risks have condensed decades of WFH transition into a few weeks: Americans went from less than 5% of employees working from home in 2017 to as high as 63% this April.

In comparison, between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of people working from home increased by just 1.7%.

And it seems to be catching on

Some of the biggest companies in the country have decided to take WFH beyond May: Google and Facebook have each given many of their employees the option to work from home for the rest of the year, while Twitter announced workers have the option to commute from their living rooms forever.

As other offices embrace staggered office reopenings and extending the terms of remote work, there's a big question: why has something 95% of the workforce avoided become such an embraced aspect of our lives?

There's plenty of advantages for workers

Not having a commute saves the average worker nearly an hour each day, but the biggest benefits may occur once they sit down at their desks/kitchen tables. 65% of WFH-ers feel their productivity has increased, while 80% feel they're better able to manage distractions from coworkers.

And they're not pining for the water cooler: only 42% admit to actually missing social interactions with their cubicle companions.

It's also safer: COVID-19 isn't going away any time soon, and being able to stay safe while earning a living is, compared to many essential face-to-face professions, a welcome luxury.

Employers could save a fortune on overhead, too: another study suggests having employees work from home even half the time could result in savings of up to $11,000 per employee annually, money that would've otherwise been spent on office space, supplies, and related expenses.

What will the future look like?

It could mean to a "great migration" from some of America's densest cities: places like Manhattan or Seattle, where 44% of surveyed workers anticipate working from home indefinitely, face the potential loss of office leases, real estate taxes and general traffic as employees no longer need to live nearby to clock in at their company's HQ.

Portions of offices could become permanent remote work: while many businesses will still require direct contact of some kind, 75% of recently surveyed financial leaders have said they plan to make at least 5% of their workforce fully remote.

A stigma has been lifted: a prior bias against the legitimacy of remote work has been reduced by a shared experience of entire industries working remotely. Whether this will become an explosion of remote work or a moderate integration remains to be seen, but much like the virus that incited it, the work landscape appears to be forever changed.