Reprinted from internal source
By the spring of 2022, much of American life has seen their pre-epidemic return to normal. Travel? Daily air travel sits at about 90 percent of its pre-epidemic level. Sports? Total attendance was higher in the 2021 NFL season than in 2019. Work? The unemployment rate (3.6 percent) is much higher than the number recorded in the same pre-lockdown month of February 2019 (3.5 percent) in the same ballpark.
One thing, however, did not return to “normal”: the presence of white-collar workers in the office. This is a good thing. Work from home is good for almost everyone in the long run and a return to it, without interruption, would actually represent a return to the historical rules.
For employers and employees, staying away from the physical office has obvious benefits. Employees who work from home work an average of 1.4 days more per month than their co-workers in the office. This is an additional 20-working day month each year. What’s more, they do this when reporting a better work-life balance and higher overall happiness than colleagues in the office. Employers need to be happy.
Not surprisingly, more than half of the workforce – according to PricewaterhouseCoopers – does not want to be in the office more than two days a week. And employers – many still struggling with the effects of The Great Regeneration – are still not really forcing them to return. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of those working from home in January are doing so despite the availability of workplaces. Employees want to work from home – a benefit that can save their employers money – as much as they want things like health insurance and 401 (k) contributions. In a tight labor market, a widely desired advantage that can actually save employers money on everything from office space to coffee is going to be hard for employers to reject.
And for many people, that’s probably normal. Instead of being the norm, the idea of working in an office is a relatively recent trend. Even sophisticated civilizations such as second-century Rome, early Victorian England, and Ming Dynasty China were influenced by home-based work. Throughout the history of human civilization, most of the settlers lived on family farms or large farms. Those who did not farm were almost always in the home-based workshops of artisans or members of religious and military groups who lived in religious institutions and forts.
The idea of ”going to work” away from home began in the early 19th century with the use of water power and early efforts to mechanize mining. And a growing sophisticated society dominated by large, centralized machines means that almost all jobs require a physical presence.
Prior to 2000, for example, almost all important documents required a wet signature in pen to be legally valid. Mainframe and mini-computer systems – typical of large companies in the 1970s – similarly can only be accessed through local area networks that rarely extend beyond a building or campus.
Communication was very expensive even in the distant past: when the long-distance monopoly market was first opened for competition in 1984, the average hourly domestic call cost $ 25.60 (equivalent to $ 69.27 in 2022). It was these requirements – not the “synergy” or “relationship” aspirations – that made the modern white-collar office.
Times, however, have changed – and the epidemic has only accelerated it.
Extensive internet, almost free long distance communication and ubiquitous access to knowledge means office days are cut short as long as we can sustain our innovation and economy. While the number of people who go to the office on a typical day may go up for some time, it seems safe to predict that white-collar workers will not be able to reach the level of early 2020 by reporting to their workplace every day. It is normal to work and live in the same place.