Coronavirus sent workers home. Will they go back to the office?

Working from home has been a growing trend for the last several years. As part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, even companies who have resisted remote work were forced to send their staff home. We’ve taken the time to ask a number of our customers and partners what they plan to do as states open back up and allow employees to return to work.

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  • Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2020
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Unsurprisingly, many companies are realizing that this ‘whole work home thing’ is not that bad, and in many cases, it’s turned out to be a good thing. In fact, a majority of businesses are realizing that keeping their staff working from home is the right decision both short and long term. Here’s why.

Productivity

Contrary to pre-COVID concerns, most businesses we’ve spoken to have found that their teams are actually more productive at home. That’s right, having a staff that is not surrounded by friends, coworkers, office gossip and impromptu meetings has led to increased productivity. Who knew?

More efficient meetings was a common theme we heard from the businesses we interviewed. Meetings start and end on time, and they stick to the agenda as everyone understands that time is more limited.

Another recurring theme is that many employees and managers are finding that communication is improving. Because there is less face time, teams are having to make sure they communicate clearly and often with each other including rethinking how priorities are communicated and staying up to date on what challenges each day brings.

working from home

Cost

As businesses have looked to get leaner in the face of economic uncertainty, every cost is scrutinized. The average office needs roughly 150 square feet per person to keep a comfortable space – and that was before social distancing requirements became a new fact of life. The cost of that space varies by city; in Atlanta office space rents at $28-30 per square foot per year, whereas space in more expensive markets like New York City can rent at $75 per square foot and up.

That means that even in more affordable markets, the rent overhead alone is over $4,000 per employee. In higher priced markets? Companies pay north of $10,000 per employee. Those costs don’t include utilities, rent, office supplies, office furniture, and other perks, and they definitely don’t include 6 feet of separation for all individuals.

Now that companies have figured out by necessity how to manage a remote workforce, they are doing the math and realizing that paying thousands of dollars in rent every year for each employee just doesn’t make sense. Even in more affordable markets, providing a quality workstation for an employee to use at home is a fraction of the cost of their allocated rent. And if you keep them in the office, you still have to buy the furniture!

office space is expensive

Employee Preference

Surprisingly, of the businesses we’ve spoken to, many of their employees have indicated they actually prefer working from home. In addition to the increases in productivity, the biggest drivers are flexibility (who doesn’t like working in sweatpants), and well, the drive. Commuting back and forth to work can be time consuming and a point of frustration for many. 

The average American has a 26 minute commute to work each way. That means the average US worker spends over 4 hours per day commuting. Working from home is literally giving people substantial portions of their life back. That freedom – 4+ hours per week! – along with cleaner cities, less money spent on gas, and less traffic induced stress has many companies and employees rethinking the necessity of their commute.

home office

Talent

This one’s a little forward thinking, but a remote workforce gives businesses a much bigger talent pool to hire from. With the increases in productivity mentioned above, companies are beginning to understand that great people work as well if not better from home. Smart companies are starting to translate that to how they hire; go find the best candidate, regardless of where they are. 

So, What Does the Future of Work Look Like?

Many, if not most, workers will not return to a full time office. For the short term, while social distancing stays a priority, companies simply won’t be able to safely bring their full teams into an office. Long term, companies will realize that keeping people at home 1) saves money, 2) increases worker productivity, 3) provides the flexibility to hire better people, and 4) makes employees happier. That’s a win-win-win-win.

Moving forward, offices will be smaller and designed more around conference and meeting areas with flex space for people who want to be in the office a couple of days per week. Teams will likely still have larger meetings in person – think quarterly or annual planning – but allow individuals to execute those plans wherever they are most comfortable.

Change can be challenging, and the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated unprecedented change in the way people work, virtually overnight. But, necessity is the mother of invention. As companies realize they can move faster and keep employees happier and healthier working from home, there won’t be a rush back to the office.

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