Economists who study remote work and productivity had one big problem: finding groups of workers to study.
To get it right, you had to identify people who were doing the exact same job and split them into two cohorts, one working from home and the other working in an office.
A Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, and James Liang, a graduate student, CEO and co-founder of China’s largest travel agency, found a solution. They used Liang’s employees for research: study of 250 call center employees who worked from home, and 250 who worked in an office.
I wrote about their study in 2017. In short, employees working from home were more productive than those in the office. But at the end of the study, half of the cohort working from home decided they had missed the office and returned at least part-time.
Thanks to the pandemic, it is no longer difficult to find subjects for this kind of “work from home” study. And Bloom continued his research.
In fact, he wrote recently that we can now predict exactly how the big pandemic-induced workplace changes we’ve seen over the past two years take hold in 2022. He says employees will be divided into three distinct groups:
1. Employees who cannot work from home (50 percent).
First, Bloom says that about 50 percent of all employees simply won’t be able to work from home. They will have to go to an office or other workplace.
If you run a business that involves retail, manufacturing, or healthcare – or most service businesses – there’s a good chance your employees fall into this category.
Frankly, these are largely the lowest paid workers, as Bloom wrote in of the baron, summarizing its projections. Additionally, they are “often angry and upset” that they had to continue to show up in person, during the pandemic, while others have skipped their commutes and reduced their work wardrobes to a single “Zoom shirt. “.
Most employers realize that they will have to pay these employees more and perhaps offer some creative flexibility to compensate for the lack of the ability to work remotely. For example, maybe you can move employees (if they want) from an eight hour work schedule, five days a week, to a 10 hour work week, four days.
2. Employees who can work remotely, indefinitely (10 percent).
The second category, which Bloom says makes up around 10% of workers, is those who can work remotely for good. He predicts that they will be workers who share three characteristics:
- First, they are highly skilled and work in service roles. Examples he gives include IT support, finance, payroll, and publishing.
- Second, they saw no real reduction in productivity while working from home; in fact, they may have become more productive.
- Finally, for the most part, it is not the workers who have to manage or lead large teams.
Note: Employees of the study Bloom and Liang conducted a few years ago involving Liang’s company would fall into this category.
3. Employees who will work in a hybrid model: some work remotely, some in the office (40%).
Finally, Bloom says the remaining 40% of workers will fall into a hybrid category: those workers who can do a significant portion of their work remotely, but will still need to be on duty for a structured, reliable, and significant portion of their work. time.
Bloom sees them as working maybe three days a week in the office, and two remotely or from home. Common characteristics of these employees include:
- Professionals and executives with university degrees and titles.
- Workers who either need to lead teams or be part of teams, and “who need face-to-face contact to be productive,” as he puts it.
- But also, workers who have come to appreciate the advantage of having at least a significant part of their week to work from home, thus enjoying fewer commutes and “quiet times”.
In short, they enjoy this freedom and are likely to demand it or at least to seek jobs that offer it.
What other changes?
Now, if about 50 percent of the US workforce is going to be working from home or working in a long-term hybrid model, you can begin to imagine the second and third order effects this could have on a lot of people. our companies.
On the one hand, as Bloom points out, we are already seeing a “donut effect” in real estate in which hybrid workers move from inner cities and nearby suburbs to the more exurban areas around them.
They’re willing to endure a longer commute (it’s only two or three days a week), if that means a bigger house and yard, for example.
True teleworkers, by the way, can move wherever they want. Already, we’re seeing more rural states like Vermont, Virginia, and Oklahoma offering financial incentives to remote workers who will consider relocating there (and bringing in their jobs, purchasing power, and money. taxpayer money).
Heck, even foreign countries have waived visa requirements for remote workers. Want to live in Barbados, Bermuda or Costa Rica for example? They all have programs.
Working from home will continue to be a big business in itself: technology, culture and best practices will be great opportunities for growth.
As for the offices themselves, well, I’m sorry to say that open offices are now the real wave of the future. It is simply much harder to justify private office space for people who will only use them 50% of the time.
Also, if the whole point of having people in the office is to improve communication and teamwork, I think we hear a lot about not literally leaving walls between them.