The “stay at home” orders issued in many countries have changed working habits. The mandatory “work at home” for office jobs has created a debate about work after the health crisis. Will we continue to work at home or will we return to the office? Some have stated that people who work from home must have lower pay. The research team at Deutsche Bank had even proposed a tax for a remote worker to help “essential” jobs that cannot be done at home. But remote work can be a good opportunity for enterprises and workers if used with flexibility and case by case.
The Advantages of Remote Work for Enterprises
One of the main advantages of remote work is financial. A lot fewer logistics are required for society and workers. Indeed, people who work in an office have to pay for commuting costs, such as public transit, gas or maintenance expenses and those who drive have to pay for parking. When working remotely, people aren’t stuck in traffic and don’t have to consider the time of travel between home and the office. Some costs are associated with working from home, especially related to electricity and internet devices.
Some studies show that working from home improves productivity. As mentioned by Wall Street Journal citing a survey of the University of Irvine: “Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task”.
Simultaneously, a survey conducted in California during the pandemic has tracked a 47 per cent increase in worker productivity. This better performance can be attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment and fewer breaks and sick days. Indeed, a better environment leads to more work satisfaction and better health.
For enterprises, remote work can allow them to make some cuts on the logistic aspects. There is no need to have a large office to rent or buy because most of the staff will be at home. It would be possible to have some cheaper offices or in some extreme cases, virtual offices. It is also easier to relocate.
A Transformation of Cities
The development of remote work is not without consequence on the organization of cities. A remote worker can do their job from anywhere if they have electricity and an internet connection. In other words, they don’t have to be in the city of the office nor even in the same state.
With less space and fewer workers in the office needed, the town center will have less density. Moreover, people will be more reluctant to live in an expensive city (mainly a megalopolis) with the possibility to work from any place. This situation will accelerate the departure of workers from large towns to middle-sized ones. Affordable suburbs will have a growing role in the city organization instead of expensive town centres.
Especially with the closure of the so-called “non-essential” shop, which has already weakened the downtowns’ attractivity. If the remote work trend becomes too important, there is a risk of reconfiguring attractive cities. Well-connected and technological towns will be an asset.
Flexibility and Adaptability Are the Keys to Success
Of course, remote work is not a miracle solution. The work assets from home depend on the structure of enterprises and organizations (it is not possible to do some jobs from home, especially the physical ones) and the workers’ personality (some people work better in the office). Each case is unique and flexibility is essential.
What is essential is that the choice of working at home vs working in the office must be made by the business, not by a coercive authority like the government. Forcing people to remote work or on the contrary, taxing them is not a good solution. Workers and businesses know more than the administration about what is good for them.
Alexandre Massaux is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.