Working from Home is Here to Stay

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On March 17, 2020 I told the employees of MakeStickers that everyone who can work from home should work from home. At the time we thought maybe it would be for weeks, possibly a few months.

In the summer when we decided we’d keep requiring work from home through the end of the year I still wondered if we were being too pessimistic. Many still held out hope we’d be able to have our annual company Christmas party.

As we head into the end of 2020, there’s a vaccine on the horizon. People might start receiving it before Christmas.

So where does that leave us? Maybe by the summer things will be back to normal, but we don’t really know. What I do know is that we will have gone at least 12 months of mandatory working from home by the time COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

Pent-up demand for being in the office?

There’s all sorts of speculation about how things might or might not “come back” after COVID. Will there be pent-up demand for movies, travel, and dining out? I think it’s very possible.

But what about the office. Will there be demand to go back into the office? My prediction: absolutely not.

But aren’t Zoom calls horrible? They are. Don’t you want actual human interaction? Sure.

Many have moved on

But here’s the thing: twelve months is a long time, and people adjust. Some adjustments can be undone — I brought my nice desk chair from the office to my house. I can easily bring it back.

But some adjustments cannot be undone. One of our employees took the opportunity to move from the Chicago area to Alabama. Once COVID is over she’s not moving back.

We also hired a few people over the last 12 months who are too far away to commute daily. We’re not going to fire them.

And then there are the countless small lifestyle changes people have made — and enjoy. After working from home for over 12 months, how many people could look their spouse in the eyes and say “Hon, I need to start going back to the office, so the family will see me for an hour less each day.” That’s just not going to happen for a significant percentage of people.

Yes, some people will go back to the office. Some jobs really do suffer when forced to work from home. But on a massive scale, people will want to keep working from home.

Diminished value of being in the office

And given that many people will want to keep working from home, the value of returning to the office will decrease for those who otherwise might want to go back.

With enough people working from home, everyone is forced to work as if they are remote. Will you commute for 30 minutes to your office only to try to find a private place to do a Zoom call with your colleague who is at home?

Will the four people in the office sit around a table with a speakerphone so that one or two remote people can “call in” to the meeting? I hope not — those are the worst meetings.

As long as people are given the choice to work from home if they want, this secondary loss of value of being in the office for the remaining employees will be a real factor.

What company would require people to come back in to the office?

Some will, for sure, but that’s because there are plenty of companies run the wrong way. Any good manager will know that after such a long time of requiring remote work, it’s going to be extremely difficult to take that back and require people come back in to the office.

What will happen if a company announces all employees will be required to come back into the office? The good ones who want to keep working from home will find other jobs.

The New Normal

Since where we work has such a big impact on how we structure our lives, there’s no going back for a big percentage of the folks who became remote workers this spring. People have made changes to their lives that can’t easily be undone.

The thing is, our “new normal” was already on the horizon, COVID just brought it here sooner. Remote work was already growing pre-COVID, and work flexibility was already a growing interest for many employees.

The fact that COVID took the already existing growth in working from home and dialed it up to 11 is a strong indicator that things will not go back to normal. Maybe not even close to normal. Yes, offices will still remain — I think especially for very small companies, or companies that have a narrow geographical focus, but any company that already had some remote work before COVID is pretty likely to remain heavily or fully remote indefinitely.

And that’s a good thing.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

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