Now if only corporations would listen …
By Monica Potts
Three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote and hybrid work are as popular as ever. Only 6 percent of employees able to do their jobs remotely want to return to the office full time, according to a Gallup survey published in August. The vast majority of “remote-capable” workers1 want to spend at least some of their workdays at home. When they’re forced to return to an office, they’re more likely to become burned out and to express intent to leave, according to Gallup.
But that’s not all. The pandemic, combined with a strong labor market where workers have persistent power to demand the kinds of work cultures they want, means even more changes could be coming. After years of advocacy, many U.S. states are moving towards mandatory, paid family and sick leave for all workers. Meanwhile, companies are flirting with a four-day workweek in pilot programs worldwide, including in the U.S.
Policies like these have conventionally been seen as good for workers’ personal lives but bad for business. But thanks to the massive, sudden changes brought on by the pandemic, we now have more data than ever, and it shows that assumption is mostly wrong. Overall, policies that are good for employees’ personal lives are, when enacted correctly, good for their work lives, too. In fact, they seem to be good for everyone. The only question is whether we’ll start to see more companies adopt them.
Working from Home
Before the pandemic, just under 6 percent of employees were primarily working from home, but that had tripled to nearly 18 percent by the end of 2021, the most recent year available, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. While it’s still a minority of Americans overall, the shift to working from home is concentrated among certain kinds of workers — especially those who once filled downtown offices in cities on the coasts. In general, employees think they’re more productive when they work from home, while managers suspect that they’re not.
Economists have been trying out who’s right, using a couple different measures. A Harvard Business Review study found in August 2020 that working from home lets knowledge workers concentrate on tasks they think are important and want to do, and less time getting pulled into irrelevant meetings or working on someone else’s project.2 But when worker output can be measured, that’s even more helpful. The federal agency that reviews patent applications already measured worker productivity based on a metric that included actions completed in a specific period of time. A study in the Strategic Management Journal found before the pandemic that workers’ ability to work from anywhere increased productivity by 4.4 percent.