A recent study by Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, showed that very few Americans want to go back to five-day office commutes and prefer to work from home — at least for a few days per week.
Working from home: No ‘grim five-day office commutes’
According to the study, based on months of surveys of more than 20 000 Americans up until December, workers and companies alike have found it is better than expected. Both have sunk money into the equipment needed for working from home ($600 for the average worker).
“The ‘shirking from home’ stigma has faded,” the Financial Times reports further. “No one wants to go back to grim five-day office commutes. All up, workers think being able to work from home two or three days a week is as valuable as a pay rise of about 8%.”
Mixed mode can be a ‘complete horror’
2OceansVibe attributes these feelings as people being able to play with their pets, spending an extra hour in bed and “generally being able to work while in a state of dishevelment all day”. And while that might be the case, Bloom’s research does pinpoint one scenario that can prove tricky, though:
“One thing is already clear”, he says. “Mixed mode is a complete horror.”
By this, he means a mixed team of, say, five people at home and four in the office, all struggling to hear each other on badly connected Zoom calls. Even when the tech works, people at home know they will miss out on crucial post-meeting huddles that only those in the office can have.
“It’s a disaster’,” says Bloom. “So firms are really trying to organise it so that you’re either all at home, or all in at work.”
But there is another thing that he says managers are even more worried about: a looming “discrimination crisis” if workers are allowed to work at home as often as they please.
Bloom’s research suggests there is reason to be concerned. A study he did on a big Chinese travel company that tested working from home nearly a decade ago, showed people at home were promoted at about half the rate of those in the office.
Two common reasons researchers heard were that people at home were forgotten, while the office workers developed more “managerial capital” by having lunch, coffee or general chit-chat with each other and their bosses.
Bloom says his more recent research bolsters his belief that if workers are allowed to choose how many days they work from home, some groups, such as women with young children, will almost certainly end up doing more work at home than others.
A ticking time bomb
Three years later, their promotion rates will be “dramatically lower” than, say, young, single ambitious men who come in five days a week, and a plethora of lawsuits will ensue. This is why he is strongly advising companies not to let staff choose willy nilly how many days they spend at home.
“I think firms need to be paternalistic on this,” he says.
They should try to find ways to make sure everyone comes on the same days and works from home the same days. “Otherwise you’re going to have this ticking time bomb.”
That could be tricky: his new data shows more than 30% of workers either never want to work at home, or only want to do it rarely, or for just one day a week.
“At least these workers have a choice. A lot of people have jobs requiring them to move things or drive to places, despite the greater risk of infection, while their office colleagues stay at home.”