A recent study conducted by FlexJobs, a flexible and remote jobs search site, surveyed 2,100 people and found 65 percent of them would like to continue working from home full-time after the pandemic while 56 percent said they would actually quit their jobs if they were required to return to the office. Respondents cited commute avoidance, cost savings, flexibility, and work-life balance as reasons for preferring WFH life.
The “breathing room” working from home offers is what employees love about it, says Erin Hatzikostas, founder and CEO of career coaching company b Authentic inc and author of You do You(ish): Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers to Get the Career You Deserve. Employees can now take a quick work break to water their lawn or run their child to a friend’s house without it being a huge ordeal. And anecdotally, she’s noticed that men have been able to contribute more to the labor of managing a household and children while working from home—which is a perk both partners may enjoy for different reasons.
When remote work is allowed, employees can also expand the geography of a job search or, on the flip side, move away from industry centers to areas that are more affordable. This increase in options puts employees in a more powerful position than they’ve ever been before, says Hatzikostas, because companies have to work harder to entice workers who have more potential employers to choose from. “HR has got to get off their ‘same sh*t, different day’ and figure out how to start paying people for value, period,” she says. “The value they bring regardless of where they live, what their background in education is, what their title… we’ve got to get a place where we’re paying for value.”
Not everyone who works from home is loving it full-stop, of course; according to Pew Research conducted December 2020, younger respondents cited productivity difficulties associated with working from home, as did parents trying to juggle childcare while teleworking. Plus, people are just sick of the four walls of their homes, says Caileen Kehayas Holden, content director at Career Contessa, a career advice and job search site for women.
And one of the primary reasons people stay at their jobs is because of their work friends, says Cara Silletto, MBA, CSP, president and chief retention officer at Magnet Culture, a consulting firm focused on employee retention. For some people, the absence of face time with those pals may make their job less palatable. She also notes that some individuals don’t have the equipment or home office situation that’s most conducive to their work, so those people might prefer to be in the office at least occasionally. And some employees she’s spoken to actually miss their commutes, because they provided a buffer between attending to the needs of those at home and attending to the needs of those at work. In other words, they viewed their commutes as a much-needed break from the myriad demands of life.
For these reasons and more, 33 percent of those surveyed for the FlexJobs study hoped to be allowed some combination of in-office and at-home work in the future, and that is the sentiment Stilletto says she hears most. “Employees want to have their cake and eat it too,” she says. “I’m hearing that employees want an office to go to, but they want to be given the flexibility to go there when they want, and to be able to stay at home and reduce their commute and have more flexibility when they want.”
As a result, Hatzikostas and Silletto both believe employers will have to offer some version of flexibility in order to attract and retain talent moving forward. “The companies that are more flexible and more clear with their expectation are going to be the ones that win the talent battle,” says Silletto. Both believe that the old way of managing—counting butts in seats, for example—will feel archaic and suffocating to employees in a post-pandemic world, and that managers will have to adapt their management style to focus less on face time and more on contribution.
In fact, Holden believes that perspective employees will view a lack of flexibility to work from home as a red flag when considering their employment options. “It’s going to be indicative of a workplace that really just doesn’t give a crap about their employees,” she says.
There are benefits to employers who can figure out the right mix of in-person and at-home requirements, too. Silletto points out that they may save on office space if they stagger employees to come in on different days. Hatzikostas also points out that they can pull from a wider range of talent if they’re not tethered to the idea of employees being in the office, as they can hire from other cities, states, and even countries.
She further notes, however, that employers face challenges when it comes to best enabling collaboration and innovation, and she points to the WFH experiment conducted at Yahoo by former CEO Marissa Mayer some years ago that resulted in her calling employees back into the office and citing a lack of innovation as the reason. But Hatzikostas isn’t too troubled by this challenge. “I used to joke that by the time they figure out how to get everybody housing in San Francisco, we’ll probably be able to be holograms that will look like we’re there anyway,” she says. “Don’t rule out technology continuing to just blow our frickin’ minds.”
Silletto says that some employers are also in a tough spot given that the work done by some of their employees must take place on site while it’s entirely possible for others to do their jobs remotely. Allowing the latter to stay home in this circumstance can lead to resentment on the part of the workers reporting in to the office, she says.
And of course, the ability to work from home in general is demonstrative of privilege, as many workers weren’t able to do so even during the pandemic, let alone after. According to Pew Research, there’s a clear class divide between those who can work from home and those who cannot. Sixty-two percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or more education said they were able to work from home compared to only 23 percent of those without a four-year college degree.
There is continued discussion of the potential harms of working from home from a career advancement standpoint, too. The Atlantic recently reported that people who work from home receive fewer promotions and raises. Whether that holds true in a post-pandemic world in which working from home has become normalized and mainstreamed remains to be seen, however.
Regardless, Hatzikostas, Holden, and Silletto are bullish about the fact that WFH is here to stay in some form or another. This is likely to accelerate an even more revolutionary work trend, too, says Hatzikostas. She believes that our days of being employed by just one employer at a time are numbered, and that the bulk of us will soon have contracts with multiple employers at once.
“The biggest moat around everything is benefits and all that traditional stuff—there’s a lot to be knocked down,” she says. But as that piece of the puzzle gets worked out in one way or another, she purports, employment will become a looser, freer relationship. “There will be this whole trend of regular corporations moving away from full-time employees to a freelance-type concept,” she says. “Everybody’s looking at the work from home conversation, but there’s this whole other trend going on that almost makes that conversation largely irrelevant.”
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