Many workers may never return to the office, and that’s a good thing – InsideSources
The spring of 2022 has seen much of American life return to its pre-pandemic normal. Travel? Daily air travel is at about 90 percent from its pre-pandemic levels. Sports? The 2021 NFL season saw higher total attendance than in 2019. Work? The unemployment rate (3.6%) is very the same stage like the number (3.5 percent) recorded in the last pre-lockdown month of February 2019.
One thing, however, has not returned to “normal”: white-collar attendance at the office. This is a good thing. Working from home is better for almost everyone in the long term and a return to it, rather than being a disruption, would actually represent a return to historical norms.
For employers and employees, staying away from the physical office has clear benefits. Workers who work from home on average 1.4 days longer of work per month than their counterparts in the office. That equates to almost a month of extra 20-day work every year. Moreover, they do it while reporting a better work-life balance and higher overall happiness compared to their office colleagues. Employers should be delighted.
It’s no surprise that more than half of the workforce — according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers — wants to be in the office no more than two days a week. And employers, many of whom are still struggling with the effects of The big resignation – so far, doesn’t really bring them back. According to the Pew Research Center, in January more than 60 percent of those who worked from home did so even if they had a workplace available. Workers want to work from home — a benefit that is likely to save money for their employers — as much as they want things like health insurance and 401(k) contributions. In a tight labor market, it will be hard for employers to turn down a widely desired benefit that can actually save employers money on everything from office space to coffee.
And for a lot of people, that’s probably natural. Rather than being the norm, the idea of working in an office is a relatively recent trend. Even early sophisticated civilizations like 2nd-century Rome, early Victorian England, and Ming Dynasty China were dominated by homework. For most of the history of human civilizations, the vast majority of settled people lived on family farms or large plantations. Those who did not cultivate were almost always artisans in home workshops or members of religious and military groups who lived in religious institutions and citadels.
The idea that most people “go to work” away from home took off with the first efforts to harness water power and mechanize mining in the early 19th century. And an increasingly sophisticated society dominated by large, centralized machines meant that almost every job required a physical presence.
Before 2000, for example, almost all important documents required a handwritten signature written in pen to be legally valid. Likewise, mainframes and minicomputers—the norm in large corporations in the 1970s—were only accessible through local area networks that rarely extended beyond a single building or campus.
Communications were also very expensive in the not so distant past: when the long distance monopoly market was first opened up to competition in 1984, an average one-hour national call costs $25.60 (equivalent to $69.27 in 2022). It is these necessities – not a desire for “synergy” or “relationships” – that have created the modern white-collar office.
Times, however, have changed – and the pandemic has only accelerated that.
The ubiquitous Internet, near-free long-distance communications, and ubiquitous access to knowledge mean that the days of the office may be over as long as our innovations and our economy can keep pace. Although the number of people coming into the office on a typical day may increase for some time, it seems safe to predict that the percentage of white-collar workers showing up at their workplace each day may never reach the levels from the beginning of 2020. After all, working and living in the same place is only natural.