Work from home vs. corporate reality
The grand revolution known as working from home in sweats with pets on your lap could be one of the pandemic era’s lasting employment legacies.
I might be old and jaded, but when I hear whispers of a workplace “revolution,” my antennae of skepticism tend to pop up.
Now, desperation is often fuel for the best inspiration, but I’ll argue there’s too much pull from the “corner office” to think “WFH” — a social-media acronym for work from home — will remain widespread in the long run.
Yes, studies claim workers and employers highly value remote work. But too often “what ifs” run afoul of the wall of corporate realities and humans’ overall dislike for change.
So, as a work-from-home veteran of two-decades-plus, let me share some of my skepticism …
Boss or bottleneck?
Most senior executives are control freaks, in an endearing way.
Command and control often is a necessary workplace evil — though I’ll leave wiggle room for those extraordinary leaders and their fungible corporate cultures that adapt quickly.
Innies or outies?
More workers than you think are quietly rooting for a return to the office.
Start with technophobes or those lacking ideal work-from-home arrangements. Others enjoy – even thrive – in face-to-face situations. Plus, old-school workers want to be “seen” by bosses to feel “valued “ as an employee.
And what of corporate travel and seeing a partner or customer — face to face? And don’t undervalue the “social life” part of the workplace equation.
New wave or novelty?
Two words: “Zoom fatigue.”
A year away from the traditional workplace settings created an odd nostalgia for often-maligned office work. It’s understandable when “return to normalcy” comes with a deep emotional tug after a chaotic pandemic year.
In addition, now that we’ve mastered many WFH tricks, the luster of new challenges (if there was any) is wearing off.
Fact: Virtual meetings are just as tedious as those in an office.
Prediction: The cuteness of the kid or pet interrupting a virtual presentation will soon be history.
Hybrid or hell?
The dream situation is painted as a worker having both the luxury of frequent work-from-home days and office time when needed.
This is about as plausible as healthy food that also tastes great.
Such “hybrid” arrangements will add work to the boss’s plate. That’s rarely good for any innovation.
Hybrid may also become a source of scheduling confusion (at a minimum) to severe workplace drama (at worst). I could imagine supervisors tiring of the “where is (your name here) working today?” questions.
Savings or slippery slope?
We know chief financial officers love WFH because they see cost savings — less office space.
That is far too simplistic. Many of these instant corporate savings prove to contain hidden costs.
Maintaining a secure remote network increases computing expenses. Paying to fully equip home offices also trims rent savings.
And more than a few companies project diminished productivity and will factor that expense into their cost-benefit analyses.
I am reminded of when penny-pinching companies thought everything could be made overseas. They often ignored the costs of shipping, quality control and delivery uncertainties.
Plus, you know at some point the government will weigh in on this foggy math.
Laws or leashes?
Workplace abuses on both sides of the boss/employee dynamic will come from work-from-home situations.
Eventually the legal system — courts or legislation — will weigh in and alter today’s free-form system.
It starts with a simple question: How many home office expenses can either be reimbursed by the employer or written off by a taxpayer? Those decisions will have a significant impact on WFH’s financial viability.
Then there are unanswered liability questions. How they are decided will help define WFH’s future.
Think of a simple question: Does personal home insurance cover work-from-home calamities?
History or hiccup?
It took a pandemic to turn WFH from novelty to near mandate.
One of the critical benefits to the worker — big-city pay while living in remote towns — seems to be too good to be true.
I recall when corporations felt forced to end the traditional corporate pension plan. At the time, bad investment returns made pensions feel like a company liability.
Many companies made loose promises that they would, to some degree, match a worker’s 401(k) investments as some kind of reimbursement for lost retirement pensions.
A couple of decades later, how many of us are still enjoying matching contributions?
Reality or rationalization?
Corporate life usually comes down to this: Does it pencil?
Looking beyond 2021, if less office space is required, landlords will eventually cut rents. Does that alter the WFH bottom line?
And how long will the typical boss pay big-city wages for a worker who lives in a low-cost, remote community? Even if current workers enjoy this perk, companies won’t pay many remote workers those big-city wages when hiring new employees. (Yes, this benefit will be offered by “flexible” companies!)
And what happens in the next economic downturn? Are remote workers more valued as they help keep office expenses low? Or are they the first let go, you know “out of sight, out of mind?”
We are very early in this “revolution,” so be wary of bold predictions of fantastical change ahead.