The idea of working from home may have been farfetched about a year ago. The common perception (even fears) about working from home includes procrastination, and dealing with too many distractions (cough* cough* .. Netflix)
It’s not uncommon for workers to think their productivity could take a considerable hit by working from where they also live.
Now, while the virtues of working remotely may have their disadvantages, this past March proved— as working from home became a widespread and instant reality — that employees and employers were up to the transition all over the world as they frantically rearranged their kitchens into makeshift work spaces.
During a time where so many regions and industries are connected to high-speed internet, technology made for a pretty seamless transition — for the most part — in most of the world. As many industries enter month six of working remotely (some of whom may do so indefinitely), it’s interesting to study which regions can potentially capitalize on a massive switch from the business suit to the work-from-home sweatpants, and everything else that comes from working remotely.
Working from home in North America and Europe
Oxford University and Citi had recently put together the 5th edition of the Technology at Work report which concluded that a surprising number of jobs can be done remotely. The study found that three out of five US workers would prefer to continue working from home as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease. The study examined 483 occupations and found that 113 of them can be performed remotely. “Importantly though,” says Carl Benedikt Frey, the Director of Future Work Programme at Oxford, “those 113 occupations employ 52% of the US workforce.” The research analysis revealed that US remote workers tend to feel they worked more efficiently at home and had greater control of how their work days unfolded.
On the other side of the pond, a study from the Netherlands’ Tilburg University suggests that working from home is generally quite effective in most of Europe. Tilburg quizzed over 5,000 employees from across the continent and European workers fell into two concrete groups: those who felt they were working longer hours than before the pandemic and were dealing with added pressure to perform. The second group felt less pressure and spent fewer hours at work, in large part thanks to no longer having to commute to a workplace.
In the long-term, both groups expressed concerns about having a diminished sense of purpose when it came to working and felt they would lack the long-term resources to work from home effectively over a longer period of time.
The future of WFH
As the world starts to reopen and restriction measures ease, will working from home become more normalized or will the majority of industries return to the office?
“Technology has evolved to the point that virtual communication can substitute for face-to-face interactions,” reads the Oxford study. “From telehealth to business meetings, more human interaction will take place on a screen in the future.” The Oxford team predicts that business travel will reduce as virtual meetings become more common. The study predicts that if people work from home one day a week, it would result in an annual CO2 reduction of 2.5%, the equivalent of taking off 4.3 million cars off the road.
When it comes to the tech industry, it doesn’t seem as easy as simply getting cars off the road, however.
In May, Facebook announced that up to half of its near-45,000 worldwide employees will be working from home in the next five to ten years. The social media giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that staff salaries will be adjusted for employees who will work from home, based on their cost of living in their specific locations.
With that said, a company like Facebook — one of the world’s largest — can capitalize on employees working remotely by paying them less, based on where they live and that area’s median household income. Zuckerberg gave Canadian and American workers until January 1, 2021, to tell the company about their location so that Facebook could properly adjust their salaries.
Shopify and Twitter announced that their employees can continue working from home ‘forever,’ even once the pandemic subsides.
As more tech companies follow Facebook, Shopify, and Twitter’s leads, it could cause a fundamental shift in the demand for commercial office space. A Time-Use Survey from June 2020 found that 12% of US employment falls under the “remote job occupation” bracket, meaning they can fully work from home in the long-term. The same survey found that 26% of jobs in the US are partial-remote and the remaining 62% is of the non-remote variety.
By varying remote work salaries based on location, it could create a global competition for finding talent all over the online world. People who apply for full-time remote jobs would be fighting for the role against more people than ever before because companies could source employees from all over the globe as location no longer becomes an asset or a problem.
While tech workers have always been on the higher-end of salaries (44% of tech workers reported six-figure incomes in the US,) the pool of talent will become vastly increased if working from home becomes a permanent tech field staple, making their labour market ripe for disruption. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says, “equal talent deserves equal access to opportunity.”
The competition for remote tech jobs will increase and so too will the potential of setting off a chain of events. Companies can target the top tech workers in the world instead of one specific location which could result in a decrease of average salaries, a dispersal of the labour force in Silicon Valley, and a brain drain from outside industries.
As many workers continue to adapt to the new work-from-home environment and the nature of their jobs start to change, we might see stricter protocols that call for fewer opportunities for real-life personal interaction. As big companies seek to capitalize on what could become the new norm, disruption can become quite drastic, and workers could be switching out sitting in hours-wroth of commute traffic for lengthier late afternoon Zoom calls.