Since March of 2020, when offices around the world shut down in response the global coronavirus pandemic, working from home has garnered headlines, inspired memes, and forced both employers and employees to question the relevance of working in a traditional office environment.
But while more Americans than ever are currently working full time from home—about 71% according to a recent Pew Research Center survey—the trend is hardly new. The move away from 9-to-5 days in an office began in the 1970s, when the 1973 oil embargo caused gas prices to soar and made commuting more expensive.
Even so, only about 20% of employees regularly worked from home pre-COVID, partially due to the stigma that at-home workers didn’t work as hard as in-office workers. As noted by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom in a 2017 TED talk, an online image search for “working from home” in 2017 resulted in negative cartoon images of semi-naked people lounging on the couch or parents holding a laptop in one hand and a baby in the other.
Just two years later, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report found a 78% increase in LinkedIn job posts referencing flexible work between 2016 and 2018, and according to data from the March 2020 Global Workplace Analytics report, remote work in the U.S. rose by 173% between 2005 and 2018.
Remote Work Today
A McKinsey research survey found 80% of respondents enjoy the WFH experience, and 41% percent reported they are more productive than they had been previously. This finding was supported by a 2015 study by Nicholas Bloom and coauthors, which showed employees who opted in to WFH policies increased their productivity by 13%. When, nine months later, the same workers were given the choice of remaining at home or returning to the office, those who chose the former saw even further improvements: they were 22% more productive than they had been before the experiment.
Many respondents in the McKinsey study also reported they’ve found more beneficial ways to spend that once-wasted time put into long commutes or travel, and experience a more fulfilling work/life balance.
There are plenty of cost savings to consider with WFH arrangements as well. Without needing to rent office space and outfit it with the necessary tools and furniture employees need to do their jobs, organizations can reduce or eliminate real estate costs. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2015 estimated that increases in remote work that year saved it $38.2 million.
Despite the success of remote work, however, 87% of workers still recognize the role of the office as a place for collaboration and team building. Because of this, companies are trying to figure out how to continue to offer employees the WFT flexibility they crave, while simultaneously creating opportunities for facilitating relationships between co-workers. According to a survey by Gartner, Inc., 82% of employers intend to continue some sort of WFH arrangement beyond the pandemic, with companies such as Dropbox, Facebook, and Shopify implementing plans allowing workers to work remotely indefinitely.
Some organizations plan to strategically move toward majority-remote, with fewer than 50% of employees co-located in physical offices. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), for example, which employs close to 418,000 people who were traditionally located either on campus or at client sites around the world, has decided to adopt a 25/25 model—employees will spend 25% of their working hours in the office, and at no point will the company have more than 25% of workers co-located. They plan to complete this transition in five years.
Work from Home Benefits
Employees and companies aren’t the only ones who can benefit from more flexible working arrangements—remote work helps the environment as well.
According to a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, Americans’ commute time in 2018 averaged 27.1 minutes each way, or about 4.5 hours a week. Eliminating that commute—particularly in places where most people commute by car—would generate a significant reduction in emissions. The USPTO estimates in 2015 its remote workers drove 84 million fewer miles than if they had been traveling to headquarters, reducing carbon emissions by more than 44,000 tons.
In addition, work-from-anywhere organizations have the potential to reverse brain drain, which often plagues emerging markets, small towns, and rural locations. The state of Oklahoma realized this and established Tulsa Remote with a goal of attracting diverse, energetic, community-minded newcomers to the city. With an offer of $10,000 to relocate to Tulsa, the company attracted more than 10,000 applications between 2019-2020 for just 250 slots.
Is Working From Home Just For Now, or Forever?
Working remotely has its pros and cons for both the employees and the employers. Whichever direction you choose—be it remote, in-office, or a blend of both—ensure it is supported by your company and your coworkers. Finding a way to create a sense of work/life balance and navigating a new remote company culture may be a challenge for some, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
Staying connected, supportive, and collaborative from afar involves a little bit of preparation and finessing to find the sweet spot, but if 2020 showed us anything it’s this—the new way of work from home makes productivity and success possible.