The series from last month continues, with plenty more reports and views from the past month.
Oldest is Trey Williams’s September 28th Yahoo Finance “Employees worry they’ll be fired first in layoffs if they’re working remotely.” Yes, being out of sight and out of mind is a real situation, and it’s easier than some might think to be almost forgotten, or put unconsciously in a lower category. This piece also named a recent GoodHire study finding that of those over 25, the share of those saying they would most like to work from home fell, since last year, from 68% to 44%. Only one data point, but could it be the beginning of a trend?
Next, it’s “Remote work could be the reason you don’t have a job in 10 years,” by Jane Thier in the September 29th Fortune. I haven’t really understood why information technology jobs, for example, haven’t already largely gone to lower-paid foreigners, as most can be done from anywhere, and predicted that in my 10-year-old book Work’s New Age. This article quoted an MIT professor apparently newly taking the same view, saying that increased work from home will prompt companies to consider “outsourcing those kinds of jobs that didn’t used to be outsourced.” There must be more than that, though, as certainly people knew of that possibility decades ago and have only rarely acted on it, meaning they had other reasons for not following through.
We visit the sunny side of the non-office street with Deanna Cuadra’s October 17th Benefit News “5 reasons why hybrid work is a win-win for employers and employees.” That variety, featuring mandatory office appearances but less than five days per week, could indeed become the great compromise, but that would come from business decisions using current information more than from new insights. We already know these five factors, which invoke commuting costs, home quietness advantages, possible use of coworking spaces, work-life balance, and the aforementioned career bias, but there are others such as facilitated quiet quitting making the opposite case.
Suspect productivity, something I encountered in the 1990s, is the subject of “Microsoft’s remote-work-friendly CEO puts his finger on the big problem with working from home,” in Fortune on October 17th and also by Jane Thier. Here’s a 20,000-person, 11-country survey claiming that while 87% “say they’re more productive when they work remotely or in a hybrid setup,” but also that “85% of employers say it’s difficult to have confidence in their workers’ productivity levels when they’re not in-person.” I am glad to see someone acknowledging in print this elephant in the room – the businesses which deal most effectively with it will have the best working-from-home results.
And now, “Remote employees are working less, sleeping and playing more, Fed study finds” (Chris Matthews, MarketWatch, October 18th). This “new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York” found that “younger Americans using the saved commuting time to engage in leisure activities like eating out, exercising or attending social events,” and those over 30 “spent more time on childcare, home maintenance and meal preparation.” This does not mean actual work hours differ, but the lines around it at home are often thin or blurred entirely.
One leader in an industry claiming happiness with working outside offices spoke up in “United Airlines CEO says hybrid work has caused ‘permanent structural change’ in leisure travel demand” (Aislinn Murphy, Fox Business, October 19th). The executive, Scott Kirby, called it “one of three industry tailwinds,” as with hybrid work “every weekend could be a holiday weekend,” and such arrangements “untether (workers) from the office and give them the newfound flexibility to travel far more often than normal.” Does this mean people agreeing to appear two or three days in person might take non-business trips on the others? Do their companies actually allow that, or is this tacit recognition that time spent at home may not include full amounts of work? Nobody I know of is talking.
Perhaps, though, that party could end, as considered in Paul Davidson’s October 20th USA Today “A forced return to office? As job market cools, companies may regain upper hand with workers.” I have thought that remote hours should be treated as a perk, a privilege for certain employees that could be offset elsewhere, and, if the advantage in the job market shifts back to employers, they may pull it back.
If you can set your home office anywhere, what location would you choose? Michael Kolomatsky, in the October 20th New York Times, took a quantitative stab at that in “The Best Cities for Remote Work.” The author’s components were “workspace” for suitable residences, “amenities” for “larger yards and convenient food delivery,” “connectivity” for Internet quality, “affordability,” and “earning potential.” Topping the list of “large cities” was Plano, Texas (a Dallas suburb), followed by Frisco in the same state, Tampa, Atlanta, Seattle, Durham, Austin, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Charlotte. The ten worst were all in California, mostly southern.
Finally, we have “Remote Work Is Here to Stay. Lean In, Employers.” This opinion piece, by Jessica Grose in the October 22nd New York Times, took the view that its advantages are too strong for it to go away. It read like one side of a debate.
So, the issue of home or office is still evolving. As the Temptations put it over half a century ago, round and around and around we go, where the world's headed, nobody knows. By decade’s end, we may still not, and even if we do, it will eventually change. That is how business usually functions, and this issue will not be an exception.