Working Remotely or Remotely Working?
Working from home is here to stay, at least for some.
Good morning. This is working theology.
Quarantine has changed our habits, some for good. Many white-collar knowledge workers have been working from home, and many have welcomed that shift. Organizational leaders have too.
Gartner’s latest CFO survey showed that 74% of companies plan to shift at least some of their workforce to work from home permanently.
Barclay’s CEO, for example, has reconsidered whether they need their big downtown office space, saying that shoving “7,000 people in the building may be a thing of the past.”
This has to get you thinking, “Now what?”
Imagine if this became the norm. Think of the benefits: No more commuting, less impact on the environment from cars and office spaces, less eating out for lunch, better mental health from working when and how you want, and much more.
But also think of the consequences: Cities lose tax revenue from office buildings, the commercial real estate market could collapse, restaurants near offices lose much of their business, children need attending to, and working from home is really only available for white-collar, high-skilled jobs and those with access to high-speed internet, further separating the divide between the upper and lower classes.
The New York Times has covered some of the effects of mass work-from-home environments. On the one hand, many have loved working from home. I have too.
On my walks around the neighborhood, it’s nice to see families playing in the yard or going for a walk. Bounce houses and kiddy pools litter the neighbors’ grass. Dogs are getting more attention than ever. People are stopping just to say hello and chat, including a woman named Katherine who walked with me for three blocks on Friday.
Even on Zoom calls with coworkers and clients, you get to see a little more of the human, family side of working professionals.
“There is this softened, unfiltered, more honest version of ourselves that I’m enjoying getting to know,” one interviewee said to The Times. “There is room to be forgiving and understanding with each other and ourselves. And it’s because we’ve all had to juggle.”
She’s right. This unfiltered version of others’ lives have spurred forgiveness. We all have to be a little more gracious toward the extracurriculars going on in our houses. Kids screaming, dogs barking, coworkers forgetting to share a document or include a meeting invite—we’re all just being people. To err is human.
Not only that, we’re also apparently more productive, or at least that’s what some CEOs are saying. That’s why many are considering whether they need office spaces anymore. Some think that they could turn much of their office buildings into meeting rooms or gathering places.
That’s because we need community. Human beings are social creatures. If we don’t get our social lives from work, we’ll get it some other way.
This has me hopeful that, without commuting as much, people will become more involved in their local communities. They’ll see their neighbors more, shop at local grocers, or use the extra time usually spent in the car to volunteer or spend more time with their families. Perhaps we’ll get more involved in our churches. Perhaps.
However, The Times points out that working from home could crush the commercial real estate market in larger cities, as well as tax bases that fund schools, hospitals, and homeless shelters. Other businesses tied to corporate offices aren’t going to fare well. Just yesterday, we learned that WeWork, once valued at over $47 billion a year ago, is now valued at $2.9 billion, according to SoftBank.
Of course, many are deeply suffering because of their inability to continue working as normal. The wedge between the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, high-skilled and low-skilled workers is driven deeper in, no doubt. Parents, too, have a real hard time. I don’t need to tell you that.
As with all decisions, there are trade-offs. “Closing” an economy isn’t an easy decision, and forcing one’s employees to work from home isn’t either.
Yet remote work is here to stay, at least for some. In a recent poll cited in The Times, “Gallup found that almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely ‘as much as possible’ after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace.”
I don’t blame them, either way you slice it. Working from home is good in some ways, bad in others, but perhaps it allows us to be a little closer to our families and communities, for which I’m thankful.
Thanks for reading.