In decades past working from home might have been considered a career killer. However, the figures from the great work-from-home experiment of the last two years are in and they show that the freedom and flexibility makes us more productive and the business world is taking stock.
According to a recent study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), those that worked from home prior to 2020 were more likely to be passed over for a promotion and miss out on bonuses than their office-based counterparts in the years prior to the pandemic. And the figures are striking. Between 2011 and 2020, those who mostly worked from home were less than half as likely to have received a promotion compared with workers who consistently worked in the office, and over a third (38%) less likely to have a received a bonus.
Today, however, the situation has changed. The work-from-home experience was more positive than expected both for employees and businesses. Technological innovations like Zoom and Slack helped keep employees engaged and focused, and the benefit of having no commute means that employees have enjoyed a healthier work-life balance without wasting 10-20 per cent of their waking hours in the car on on the train. Together, these changes have offered employees a better work-life balance with more free time for their friends and family, and a happier workforce has improved productivity.
As the world starts to return to relative normality, with regular rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests keeping offices safe from new outbreaks, few believe that the working situation would return to pre-pandemic ideas. The future is hybrid working, where employees and businesses can benefit from the best of both options. Some days of the week employees will be expected at work for in-person meeting and to retain the team-building benefits of face-to-face meetings, whilst others they can work from home and save on the commute.
This hybrid working model could give productivity benefits of up to five per cent according to a recent paper co-authored Jose Maria Barrero of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Hoover Institution.
The authors said:
“Our data on employer plans and the relative productivity of WFH imply a 5% productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy due to re-optimized working arrangements,” according to the paper. “Only one-fifth of this productivity gain will show up in conventional productivity measures, because they do not capture the time savings from less commuting.”
The idea of the workplace has changed forever. However, it is important to note that the benefits of this new reality of work will not be felt by all sectors and locations in the same way. The study found that higher income employees will benefit the most from the new reality, and that city centres would lose out, with spending by office-based employees expected to be at least five or ten per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels, which means bad news for cafes, restaurants, gyms, and other city-centre businesses.
Nonetheless, the losses from city centres could also result in major gains for the smaller towns and villages that have felt left behind in recent decades. As workers suddenly feel they do not need to live so close to their place of work, many will decide to move further into the countryside as can be seen already in the UK where London house prices have stagnated whilst other greener spaces have soared over the last twelve months.