Working from home has become the standard for many companies across the United States in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was not meant to be a temporary situation. After a few months of teleworking, a number of companies are considering implementing full-time remote positions, however. In fact, so many companies are rethinking their work from home policies that a recent New York Times Magazine article raised the question what if teleworking goes on forever?
“The coronavirus crisis is forcing white-collar America to reconsider nearly every aspect of office life,” science and technology journalist Clive Thompson wrote in the New York Times Magazine piece. “For workers wondering right now if they’re ever going back to the office, the most honest answer is this: Even if they do, the office might never be the same.”
The case for more remote work
It’s easy to see why companies are considering a more permanent work from home policy, based on the numbers. In 2013, Stanford researchers conducted a nine-month experiment with CTrip, China’s largest travel agency (now called trip.com), The Wall Street Journal reports. The company asked approximately 1,000 employees if they’d like to work from home for four days and one day at the office. Half of the employees expressed interest in the experiment.
The study found that remote work led to a 13 percent performance increase—9 percent of the increase came from working more minutes per shift due to less breaks and sick days. Meanwhile, 4 percent of the productivity increase came from more calls being placed per minute, which was attributed to a quieter working environment.
“Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover, but their promotion rate conditional on performance fell,” the researchers’ paper said. “Due to the success of the experiment, CTrip rolled out the WFH option to the whole firm and allowed the experimental employees to re-select between the home or office. Interestingly, over half of them switched, which led to the gains from WFH almost doubling to 22%.”
In 2018, a Harvard Business School paper examined the difference between productivity from working from home versus working from anywhere, based on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s experiences. The agency induced a voluntary work from home program in 2006, where an initial group of 500 patent examiners could work from home up to four days per week.
Then in 2012, the agency started a work from anywhere program, that let patent examiners live anywhere. Participants had to live more than 50 miles from the company’s headquarters and wait their rights for reimbursement for required trips back to headquarters to be eligible. The work from anywhere program led to an additional 4.4 percent work increase compared to the work from home program, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Thompson noted that working remotely can improve how employees feel about their jobs—there’s often a positive connection between telecommuting and job satisfaction.
“People tend to prize the greater flexibility in setting their work hours, the additional time with family members, the reduced distractions,” Thompson wrote.
Working in the office still has its benefits
Productivity might increase while employees work from home, but that doesn’t mean people want to make their living space and office space the same thing forever. There are plenty of reasons why some employees can’t wait to return to their office—the main one being human connection. Thompson noted that he heard from a lot of the remote workers he interviewed that while their offices can be, “inefficient, productivity-killing spreaders of infectious disease”, they were desperate to get back to them.
“Office work is more than just, briskly ticking off to-do items,” he wrote. “It also consists of the chemistry and workplace culture that comes from employees’ interacting all day, in ways that are unexpected and often inefficient, like the stray conversations that take place while people are procrastinating or bumping into one another on the way to lunch.”
Additionally, software company Humanyze President and co-founder Ben Waber predicted companies will still be productive and reach their goals while working remotely, but businesses could start to fracture in a year or two as ideas become less bold and employees’ cohesion decreases.
“I think we’re going to see this as the general degradation of the health of organizations,” Waber told New York Times Magazine.
“We need each other, and we understand ourselves based on our relationships with others,” Forbes contribute Tracy Brower wrote last month. “We are co-workers, colleague and team members. Being together in the office feeds this need for togetherness whether we are working side-by-side creating a new idea at a white board, solving a thorny problem around a conference table or acknowledging a friend across the cafeteria. Our humanity demands human connections and technology only meets part of our need.”
CRE owners need to be ready when tenants return to their offices
More businesses might opt to work from home following the pandemic, but there will plenty that will resume operations in their offices. When those tenants do, they’ll be expecting their wireless connectivity to be as reliable as it was prior to vacating—some might want it to be even better. There will be companies that will have some of their workforce remain at home while others are in the office. In those cases, videoconferencing will likely be a main source of communication, meaning CRE’s in-building wireless networks will be tested like they’ve never been test before. Make sure yours can handle the additional volume—or your tenants might be looking for a building that can.