Has COVID Sparked a Workplace Cultural Revolution?

Has COVID Spurred a Workplace Cultural Revolution?

A year ago, many financial, tech, and healthcare employers were sending their employees home – which came to mean anywhere there was internet access. It was, at the time, all about safety and ongoing operations… and cost savings, according to a recent CIO webinar with Best Egg’s Brian Conneen. 

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum: employees discovered they could get more done at home than they ever imagined possible. A rampant buzz spread by Zoom. The notion of a new work/life balance, eventually called a life/work balance, fed the new notion of digital nomadism. You can make a living anywhere there is bandwidth if you have in demand skills and a laptop.

I was particularly smitten, I must confess.  I had been commuting via Silicon Valley’s clogged arteries for close to 20 years.

Based on an hour commute each way (there were exceptions, but they were exceptions) that’s about 1,200 hours of time I spent listening to a barrage of attorney, opioid-induced constipation and casino ads intermixed with classic rock and news. Oh, I forgot to mention the car exhaust.

Over the years I entertained many illusions of what could have been done with that time, under the realization the commute was the price I had to pay to work. That’s a big tradition. Since at least the invention of the automobile, or even the introduction of animal-assisted transport. 

Then along came COVID and executives scrambling to keep things working. Then came the “aha” moment: employee productivity jumped AND corporate real estate costs declined.

The World Economic Forum released a report last week citing a recent National Bureau of Economic Research report. 59.5% of respondents said the WFH experience exceeded expectations while 13.9% answered worse.  It was treated as ho-hum because it merely validated what everyone already knew, except for the office politicos who thrive at the water cooler.

Working from home (WFH) is here to stay. 

wfh here to stayA new study suggests 20% of full work days will be completed from home in the future – compared to just 5% before the pandemic.

– World Economic Forum

An editorial a week later in the LA Times argued that there’s no going back, citing numerous community benefits, in addition to enhanced worker productivity:

Three of California’s thorniest challenges are housing, transportation and the environment. Remote work seems like the magical solution to all of them. With fewer people commuting, there was less traffic and fewer tailpipe emissions. Untethered to an office and a daily commute, employees could move further from their jobs to cheaper homes.