Should We Make WFH Permanent?

Image credit: iStockphoto/nensuria

Remote work has proved to be one of the rare pandemic experiments that nearly all agree have gone better than expected.

A new report from the think tank The Conference Board confirmed that the results had changed opinions about remote working. The report looked at the U.S. market.

The report noted that roughly 8% of workers with office jobs worked primarily from home before the pandemic. The prevailing wisdom in most industries was that employees were less productive outside the workplace.

Those fears did not materialize in 2020. Instead, companies saw results ranging from reduced spending on office space to massively expanding the talent pool available for hire.

"Remote work worked in 2020, with workers and employers reporting increased productivity in recent surveys," said Gad Levanon, vice president for labor markets at The Conference Board.

“If WFH trends hold, millions of workers may relocate over the next decade in search of lower living expenses and higher quality of life. As employees disperse beyond commuter zones, companies may find it increasingly difficult to reverse a decision to embrace remote work,” added Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board.

Among the report's significant findings:

  • The pandemic rapidly transformed employers' attitudes toward remote work. Survey data and hiring trends point to much of this change becoming permanent:
  • Remote work is highly stratified by race, age, and gender. Within organizations and across the economy, the ability to work from home risks becoming a fault line that leaves many behind.
  • The share of workers working remotely due to the pandemic has been highest in the West Coast and Northeast of the U.S.

Extrapolating these lessons to a post-pandemic world requires caution, says The Conference Board.

"But 2020 was also a year like no other, full of stressors likely to drive employees to work harder and longer,” said Levanon.

“Whether remote work can be as effective in normal economic conditions remains to be seen. Leaders need to be armed with trusted in-house performance analytics — and a clear-eyed view on collaboration and culture — as they seek the optimal balance of remote work in the months and years ahead.”

Image credit: iStockphoto/nensuria