2021 Predictions: The Future of Work-From-Home
The DRI International Future Vision Committee has released its 6th Annual Predictions Report, looking ahead to 2021 and its impact on the resilience community. Click here to download the complete report free from the DRI Library, and read on for a prediction on the increase in working from home.
Prediction: Working from home will become part of a new normal
Working from home (WFH) has worked well as an urgent but temporary measure. However, in the long-term, we have to revise better ways of managing human resources (HR) and welfare systems to support permanent WFH.
The trend to remote working had started prior to Covid-19 and will continue and be extended among knowledge workers. WFH – in a pure or hybrid form – has already been well adopted by those for whom it is convenient and more desirable than a commuting life. This development into a permanent feature will have a large economic impact on areas near central business districts as fewer small service companies will be needed.
However, only a limited percentage of the working population can work effectively in this way. There are various opinions about how high this percentage is; the University of Chicago estimated 40% of US workers could whereas the University of Washington indicated only 25% could realistically do so. Other studies tend to be in that range. Obviously, this will vary widely with region and country, but there is no disagreement that vast numbers of people do physical work that is not suited to WFH.
Workers in service industries (e.g. delivery drivers, construction workers, shop assistants) are more likely to be lower paid and have jobs that expose them to physical risk like viruses or assault. Workers in knowledge intensive fields are better compensated and usually have jobs that can be done remotely. Evidence suggests that current working patterns are already benefiting the latter, reducing exposure to risk and enabling them to save more of their income.
Those who can use the increased flexibility of WFH are likely to achieve a better work-life balance in the longer term. WFH has advantages for employers, including reduced overheads and increased workplace flexibility. However, the temporary WFH strategy has been successful because individuals had in-person contacts with their colleagues before the pandemic. The strategy will only be sustainable long-term if ways are found to establish new personal relationships with colleagues, clients, and suppliers. Some form of flexible/hybrid approach to WFH may become the normal expectation among traditional office staff.