Blogs and employees are singing the praises of working from home during the pandemic and continuing the practice after the pandemic is over. Employees are feeling more productive with the time saved from commuting, 27 minutes one way on average in the U.S., and find it easy to keep in touch with their associates and their customers through advances in technology both visual and digital. IBM helped launch the work-from home movement to slash its real estate costs and retain talent and had 40% of its 386,000 workers worldwide working remotely at least occasionally. But in 2017 Big Blue decided to call its troops back to the office and stop the remote work option. Is the next great competitive advantage working in an office?
How many Americans are working from home full-time? Quick research on the internet continually pulls up a 40% to 45% range…the same percentage from 2016 for workers who worked at least some of the time from home. Huh? It sure feels like significantly more than that are working from home due to the pandemic. Further research on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website reveals education level and occupation type make a significant difference. If you have less than a high school education 10.7% are working from home full-time. A bachelor’s degree or higher, 67.5%. If you work in management, business or finance 86.6% of you are working from home full-time. If you are in a service occupation the number drops to 7.9% and farming, construction, production and transportation are all less than 1%. These statistics are from June 2020 and reflect the pandemic stay-at-home order. Why should this level of working from home change after the pandemic is over?
When IBM changed their work-from-home policy they joined Honeywell, Yahoo, Best Buy, HP and Bank of America who had already reduced their remote work options. Like IBM these firms cited the need to improve teamwork, idea-sharing, speed and agility to respond to the marketplace. Their research showed them that innovation was more likely to occur when employees were working in an office together. Interacting with your associates daily exposes you to a variety of approaches and methods and allows off-the-cuff ideas to germinate and grow.
Understanding your firm is easier to do when you are talking with associates at the water cooler. You hear what others are doing and why they are doing it. You also exchange thoughts on your firm and its successes or failures. These aren’t topics that come out easily in a Zoom call or email. You become more committed to your firm and its employees when you have a vested interest in them and their performance. Lowering turnover and retaining valuable employees is an important measure of a company’s success.
If your boss sees you working in an office does that mean you work harder? Not necessarily but opportunities for promotion happen when you interact with senior management actively. Many attributes of employees aren’t quantifiable. How articulate are you? How well do you present your thoughts and ideas in a meeting? How do you respond to challenges and disagreements? Much easier to assess in person. Networking with your associates means you hear about growth in another group that could be an opportunity for you, or a new product line where you can get in on the ground floor. Hard to pick up that gossip/information at home.
Work Life Balance
What? This issue is usually used to defend a need to work-from-home, not to reinforce the importance of working in an office. The line between work and home life can become blurry. What do you do about a crying baby, noisy neighbors or the pull of your favorite midday TV show? The discipline of the office is usually a quieter and more convenient work environment.