It’s safe to say that the biggest silver lining of the 2020 hellscape was (and in some cases still is) the ability to work from home. I don’t need to go into deep detail when it comes to the benefits, you were all there.
Pre-pandemic, remote work was largely geared towards workers living far away from the office. This gave companies a broader talent pool to draw from but beyond that WFH was a rarity. In the few cases where some people would get time from home, it was usually a rare privilege or specific to their job. 2020 flipped this notion directly on its head and it’s not going to turn over again. The market has now decreed that WFH is a borderline labor right. Proponents of the work from home revolution (and I count myself as a proud member) have declared 5 days in the office to be an intolerable act. Much like our founding fathers however, we are willing to extend an olive branch before declaring outright independence. Specially, we want a hybrid model of a few days in and a few days from home every week.
There has obviously been opposition from employers to this and it is somewhat understandable. Organizations sink ungodly sums of capital into office space and feel the need to justify that after the fact. They have spent a great deal of time creating a company structure and culture and don’t think it can withstand too much remote work. This simply fails the eyeball test because if your business is still standing after these past 18 months, that alone should be proof your organization is flexible enough to accommodate a level of remote work that in most cases is significantly lower than what has already be tested! If total remote work didn’t destroy your organization’s culture and efficiency (in many cases it actually improved it), how is a hybrid model going to?
This is in part the classic trap of the sunk cost fallacy (no offense, but this is my favorite kind of fallacy). Simply because you as an organization have made this investment, this does not mean that you shouldn’t diversify a little bit. If you bought into office space and the value is clearly falling and unlikely to return to previous levels, you’d be foolish to not sell off a little out of pure stubbornness. This is a failure to face up to the reality of the situation: the world changed over the last year and a half. And it’s not going back.
This resistance should not come as a great shock. Even though WFH has been with us for a while now, the same rules of adoption to technology still apply. We are fairly early in the cycle and still seeing the natural resistance to change. I would say we’re starting to progress past the early majority and within the next year or two I expect us to enter the late majority stage.
Some companies have adopted the hybrid model and I believe that this is not purely about simple adoption. Risk adverse leaders are possibly anticipating future surges and planning accordingly. This illustrates the compromising position that non-hybrid offices are in. If (God forbid) things start to get really bad and the virus sees great spikes, non-hybrid offices faces a greater pivot than the current adopters. Even if workers are vaccinated and extremely unlikely to develop serious illness, the reputation of the offices who didn’t allow generous work from home face potentially irreparable harm. Once again, technological innovation creates insurance against risk if you take the often-overblown risk of adoption. The greater risk is the failure to adapt to the reality of the situation.
Even when this pandemic is long since past, the labor force will continue to demand work from home. Some organizations hope that this phenomenon will die out along with the risk of the virus. But there’s no sense in trying to rebottle this particular genie. The market for technology that makes remote work more viable will only continue to grow. This is not only means better tools for current remote workers, but tools that make certain jobs suddenly capable of being done from the comfort of home.
I do not believe that companies with minimal or no remote work are going to fall off a cliff immediately. But they’re already starting to lose out on top talent who have the leverage to leave and get another job (many have already). The loss of talent will greater downstream effects that won’t kill business today but weaken their competitive standing somewhere down the line. They will face a growing degree of turnover and hiring shortages that will eventually force them into the realm of the late majority. The common theme that we’re seeing here is that the benefits of WFH outweigh the highly speculative costs.