The coronavirus pandemic continues to shake up the global workplace, with more people working from home than ever before. Once the domain of artists, freelance writers, and IT professionals wearing shorts, working from home has become the new normal for millions of people across the professional landscape. According to some experts, this trend is here to stay, as workers and businesses benefit from more flexible work arrangements, improved health and environmental outcomes, and a better work/life balance.
As companies around the world react to stay-at-home orders, large parts of the workforce have migrated to the home office. Twitter workers have already been told they can work from home “forever”, with JPMorgan, Facebook, Capital One, Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow, and many others extending their work-from-home policies. This trend has spread across the world, with many banks and other large companies in Australia and New Zealand adopting work-from-home or flexible work policies in direct response to the virus.
According to a survey by Boston Consulting Group, most people want to return to the office when the pandemic is over - but with some major changes. Two or three days at the office is ideal for most people, with workers over 60 more keen to work remotely and men more likely to miss the office environment. According to another recent survey by Catalyst Research for Uplifting Australia, two out of five families are enjoying spending more quality time together thanks to remote work, with some people experiencing a greater sense of emotional wellbeing despite health and financial insecurities.
it's not all endless coffee and comfy track pants, however, with the pandemic highlighting the growing inequality between different parts of the global workforce. Not everyone can work from home, including many of those who do the most important work of all. According to data from The Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work, the new pandemic work regime is only for the lucky few. According to their estimates, fewer than 15% of Australians are currently able to work full-time from home, with this number likely to double to 30% as businesses adapt.
The difference between those who can and can't work from home also has financial implications, not to mention health implications due to contact with colleagues and members of the public. According to Alison Pennington from the Centre for Future Work, "We estimate people who can work from home are earning around 24 per cent more than those who can't... They're also more likely to have paid sick leave benefits — while essential workers who are turning out every day, are more likely to work for lower pay, but also less likely to have sick leave."
Along with the rhythm of the working week, the pandemic could also affect the size and shape of the workforce going forward. Some economists have warned of unintended consequences, as many businesses outsource or take stock and realise they can operate with fewer workers. The shape of the inner-city could also change dramatically, which would mean less pollution and reduced commute times at the expense of CBD retailers and city vibes. Working from home seems here to stay, however, with companies and workers both needing to adapt and work out what they want as we emerge into a post-COVID world.