Will we keep working from home?

Just short of the two-month mark for shelter-in-place orders that had been issued in much of the country, the Society for Human Resource Managers, SHRM, released a study showing that working from home is not all pajamas and Zoom.

Under the headline “41 Percent of Workers Feel Burnt Out During Pandemic,” the news release from SHRM in mid-May said, “While millions find themselves unemployed, 41 percent of U.S. employees feel burnt out from work while another 23 percent report feeling depressed. The survey on the mental health of U.S. workers under lockdown also found employees are struggling with negative emotions, concentration, and motivation.”

In other words, while some workers jokingly referred to sheltering in place as “house arrest,” there was some dark truth to their attempt at humor.

SHRM’s intent was to raise awareness of the mental health aspects of dealing with a global pandemic during May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Just two days later, though, zdnet.com published a different survey with a sunnier view of working from home. “Majority of remote workers are more productive and communicative” read the headline. The study found that productivity had dropped just a single percentage point since workers began telecommuting and that 40% of workers prefer to work remotely full time.

Workers employed by Google, Microsoft, and other big tech firms are getting that wish granted. According to a Washington Post article in mid May, those companies are in no hurry to bring people back to the office.

“Google and Facebook told employees that many workers who can do their jobs remotely should plan to do so until 2021,” the May 18 article said. “Amazon said its headquarters employees will stay home at least until October. Microsoft told staff Monday that working from home remains optional through October for most employees, though the company will allow some workers to voluntarily return to their offices in stages. And Twitter decided to give up on timelines altogether — telling most employees they can just work from home forever.”

Those giants aren’t the only companies looking to allow employees to work remotely. According to the Miami Herald, accounting firm Morrison Brown, Argiz & Farra sent 700 employees home to work as soon as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Telecommuting worked out so well, with business up 10% over the previous year, that when more than half of the employees at Morrison Brown, Argiz & Farra told their bosses in a survey they wanted to keep working from home, executives readily agreed.

MBAF CEO Tony Argiz told the Herald, “We’ve been killing it on all cylinders. So we’re going to be accommodating. We’re probably going to get no more than 40 to 45% of our employees to show up to the office. We’re OK with that.” 

But before anyone really thinks that a majority of us will continue to report to work in close proximity to our own refrigerators, Helaine Olen says not so fast. Olen is an opinion writer for the Washington Post who takes a world-weary view of all the talk of remote work.

As she explains in her piece, “Teleworking has been on the bubble for years. I first wrote about it for the now-defunct Working Woman magazine in the mid-1990s, when a mere 1 percent of workers were offered the option.”

But Olen lists many reasons for doubting that telework or remote working will catch on soon. One of those is the investment so many companies have made in real estate that would sit empty with employees working from the couch.

“Permit me a moment of skepticism,” she wrote. “I know it seems hard to believe right now, but I predict that the vast majority of cubicle slaves will return to the office when this is over.”

So our choice in a post-pandemic world is cubicle slave or house arrest? Probably not. LRS Consulting Services is in the unique position of working with companies of all sizes in the states we serve, and we know that many of them are looking at a variety of work strategies as they re-open. Some are rotating groups of employees so that one group is in the office while another works remotely for a week and then shift. Others are reworking floor plans to allow social distancing.

And some companies are allowing employees to keep working from home.

It will be at least a year before we really know if COVID-19 has really had a lasting impact on the way we work, and LRS Consulting Services will keep monitoring the strategies as our client companies implement them. That’s part of what we always do, truly understanding the culture of each company which enables us to find and provide the best candidate for that company.

So let us know what your company is doing and what help you may need.