Will working from home become permanent?

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Many people are working from home for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic. Will this change be lasting? Photo: dpa

Mark Zuckerberg is moving Facebook towards a substantially remote workforce over the next decade, making changes permanent that began in the past few months.

There are also many other examples of working from home becoming the norm: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently told employees they could work from home permanently. Other smaller tech companies have announced similar proposals.

Q: Will other major corporate players eventually shift away from offices?

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

NO: At least not over the long term. Until a vaccine is applied, certainly liberal work-at-home options will be all the rage. Post-vaccine, I expect that much of the workforce will return to their office, albeit in different ways. I think we will see a great prevalence of flex hours, shared or "hoteling" space, and other innovations in our workspace and time. This will translate into somewhat lower levels of demand for office space. But I do not expect that most companies will abandon the office, where ideas and networks are hatched and enhanced, for the isolation of the home, Zoom or no Zoom.

Phil Blair, Manpower

YES: It has been quite an eye-opener to most employers how quickly and successfully their entire staff has transitioned to working remotely. And now that the technology is in place, it is very easy to re-invent what their workforce should look like. But there is a broad range of working remote options. From jobs where eye contact with the client is essential to workers, to staff being based anywhere in the world, and everything in-between. What combination is right for what businesses will be finessed over the next several years.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: Many companies are finding out that they can be successful even with their employees working at home. Allowing employees to work from home reduces the need for costly office space and will be beneficial to workers who want the flexibility that working from home allows. There are negative ramifications for the economy in terms of businesses that cater to people who work in offices, such as restaurants and clothing stores. There is also some worry about the impact of social isolation.

Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

YES: The shift to employees working away from offices ushered by Covid-19 has accelerated an already emerging trend. Measuring outcomes, companies are likely to cite operating savings, reduced employee commuting (helping the environment too), and more time on tasks that yield increased productivity. Companies probably will not have a 100% away from office policy, but some periodic teaming in the workplace. Employers must be conscious to maintain innovative thinking with increased use of virtual platforms.

Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University

YES: The pandemic has demonstrated that remote and decentralised workforces can operate effectively, although more for some than others. Employees may be able to stay in parts of the country closer to family members with lower housing prices, while firms can save on the high wage costs of large cities. Firms may allow employees to work some days in the office and other days from home. Giving workers more options should raise job satisfaction and their productivity.

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

YES: Remote work has long been a trend and the pandemic only accelerated its adoption. I have worked remotely (including with co-founders) for the past eight years. There is a limit, as only certain types of work can be done remotely, and even then, important aspects of team rapport, happenstance, cross-team conversations, etc can be lost. It will be interesting to see the impacts as more companies get comfortable with the distance. Reliance on tech to communicate and monitor seems obvious, but how will this impact urbanisation?

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch and Associates

YES: Working from home is popular with today's employees as it provides for a better work-life balance. Technology companies will default to this remote option more than others, but office interactions are critical to productivity. Naturally, this will be a blow to office space if it happens too quickly, but this virus has jump-started lots of changes. Many of the changes will occur due to financial considerations as we enter a fairly deep recession.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

N/A: Yes and No. Some firms can easily transition to working at home, like call centres for airlines or computer support, or when most workers are in sales, out and about. Many back-office functions such as book keeping and admin support can be done remotely. But, where innovation, collaboration, team work, mentoring and escaping from kids at home matter, not to mention the serendipitous meeting, then these functions will be better served in the in-person office, at least for now. – dpa

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