When I think of working from home, the image of people on Zoom comes to mind with well-dressed upper halves and sweatpants below. I also think of napping during the day, running errands, playing with the kids and other boondoggles that come to mind. However, I also think about that which is more important, productivity.
It has been alleged that productivity actually increased during the pandemic lockdowns while working from home. According to data compiled by Gable, not only did productivity at work increase in 2022 but there was also a drastic increase in the balance between work and life (I guess that assumes that work isn’t life).
Anecdotally, I have spoken with friends and colleagues who will back those statistics up. While they are aware that you can’t control work outside the workplace as well, statistical numbers were up across the board while remote working was in place. Hybrid work is here to stay.
At least that’s the prediction of Martine Haas, Wharton’s management professor. “A lot of companies have moved toward hybrid in the last year and have found it not perfect, by any means, but [it] seems to be striking a pretty decent balance between what employees want and what employers want.”
The idea of remote work is not new but has never really caught on because employers have typically had the upper hand in the conversation. For decades past, the idea was that more and more companies would move to a four day work week, which was much anticipated by employees.
While a modicum of forward thinking tech firms, start-ups, and others made the leap, corporate America was reticent and had no real impetus to make it happen. The downside of capitalism is for the worker. One has to believe that the entirety of full-time work at home is very limited, with a higher probability that employers will acquiesce to workers’ demands to remain hybrid to some extent.
Haas goes on to say, “I think remote will stay in some sectors, but fully remote is going to be less omnipresent than hybrid, which again seems to be the way a lot of companies are going right now.”
The capitalist workplace has rarely been a pendulum that swings back and forth between employer and employee. The current market environment is somewhat of an anomaly. Several factors, including the pandemic and the current shortage of workers, have made the supply and demand equation tilt at least slightly in the direction of the employee. The benefits to employees are quite numerous.
So we’re really at an inflection point as to how things will go in the upcoming year and beyond. Last year corporate America made a push to get people back in the office.
Companies like Apple, Google, Twitter, and Goldman Sachs sent out memos coaxing people back in person with varying degrees of success. Returning Disney CEO Bob Iger caused a stir recently with the announcement that employees will be expected in the office four days a week by March.
According to data from Kastle Systems, a security firm that tracks office entries, the average office occupancy rate in 10 major U.S. cities remained below 50%.
Many experts, however, think that it is unlikely that work will be at the office full-time in the upcoming year. “I feel pretty confident in saying we will not see much more shift toward the office,” says Nick Bloom, a Stanford economics professor who researches work-from-home topics. It’s going to be all about the bottom line as usual. If productivity and profits remain high then employers will probably maintain the status quo.
“Employers that have been able to keep up productivity, if not thrive, during remote work will have to show a marked drop in success and tie it directly to not being in a central office,” says Amanda Armstrong, the senior vice president of brand and community at Encore, a global event-planning company.
Companies are cutting long term costs by laying off thousands of workers. In addition, less expensive office space is needed if employees work a portion of the time at home. If the numbers work then the hybrid office may have a chance.
The real challenge to this scheme is the very real possibility of a recession in 2023. What will employers do when faced with lower sales and profit margins and the marketplace for workers dries up, thus reducing leverage for employees? My guess is that the hybrid or remote work environment will again shift back to the employer.
Whether they pull an Elon Musk style back in the workplace at Twitter remains to be seen.