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The Future of Working From Home

Working from home is here to stay. According to a recent Survey Monkey and Zoom survey, two thirds of those working from home prefer splitting their time between home and the office. This is evenly split between those preferring to spend most of the time at the office and the others most of their time at home. The other third of respondents preferred to work entirely in the office (20%) or entirely from home (15%). 

It’s unclear what the future of working from home will look like. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Included here are some of the bigger questions and probable answers to working from home.  

Who foots the bill?

The question remains, who will pay for internet bills, home office supplies, and equipment necessary to work from home. Some of these are big ticket items like ergonomic stand/sit desks and computers. While other things are recurring. In rural areas, installing high-speed internet comes at an exorbitant cost, and that is before the monthly access fees are charged. 

Setting up a virtual office also can include cameras – although most webcams are sufficient provided the computer is a newer model – lighting, tripods, microphones, and headphones. 

These items will likely become considerations made in the job offer including what equipment is returned to the employer at termination. While it might seem fair for employers to pay for recurring connection fees, is it really? If your kids are attending school virtually, this benefit would extend to the entire family. 

Currently, federal law does not require that employers pay for remote work-related expenses. Yet, these are real costs associated with working from home. In California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, and D.C. labor laws require that employers pay for all necessary business-related expenses. In the past, this line was clear, for example, mileage reimbursement, but now that line is blurred. 

Additionally, taxpayers can write off a portion of their home used as an office. If the employer is footing some or all of the expenses associated with a home office, who should reap this tax benefit? These questions have not been answered – or litigated. However, labor laws are in place to prevent the employer from shifting the cost of doing business onto employees. Yet, the majority of states do not have substantial labor laws. How much of those costs should be borne by the employer is still undecided.  

How is job performance measured?

When employees work in an office, they punch a proverbial, or literal, timeclock. Productivity was measured in terms of hours worked, likability, and actual work completed. With the future of working from home, employers do not have the same visibility measures. Employees are using their time differently, working around home-life schedules. Productivity is slowly becoming the only measure of job performance. 

Time-tracking software is being used by companies like Apple and Verizon. This might feel a little bit like big brother is watching. Time-tracking software allows employers to monitor keystrokes, social media alerts, and other non-productive work. Other programs like TeamViewer allow employers to remotely monitor screens.

There is a fine line between understanding the workflow of employees and overstepping privacy boundaries. Certainly, you would not want your employer to know that you’re job hunting. On the flip side, the employer is paying you to work – but only during scheduled work hours. 

What about cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity poses a real threat to working from home. Data breaches can have devastating effects on a company. In Cisco’s Future of Secure Remote Work Report, 85% of respondents placed cybersecurity as a top concern. Without the controls afforded in an office environment, will companies be able to secure data effectively?  

I know that I’ve personally experienced reservation when calling customer support to learn that their representatives are working from home. It can be scary to confirm your identity using your social security number over a broken cell phone connection. 

Companies will be forced to change their IT systems and infrastructure to provide secure remote work. As well, office procedures and policies will need to be updated. Many of these things have yet to be addressed as companies continue to scramble with the new normal of working from home. 

What will happen to all the empty office space? 

Pre-pandemic, office buildings were being built in city centers around the country. COVID stay-in-place orders mandated that only “essential workers” leave the home – forcing more than 44% of employees to work from home during the height of the pandemic. Right now, many of the office buildings remain vacant or nearly vacant. 

In January 2021, CBRE polled its office clients. Roughly 9% of employers began bringing employees back into the office during the first quarter. Another 12% planned to during the second quarter, and 21% of employers indicated a return to the office during the third quarter. Many employers were waiting to see how the pandemic will shake out, including the COVID vaccine. 

Still other companies are scaling back. Ralph Lauren announced it would cut as much as 30% of its corporate real estate, and CVS plans to do the same. REI put up its newly built – unused – corporate headquarters up for sale in Bellevue, Washington. The building sold to Facebook in September (for $367.6 million). Facebook plans to have 2,300 employees at the facility later this year. This comes after Facebook announced it is embracing work-from-home options for its employees. 

It is hard to predict how the future of working from home will shape corporate America and the global economy. One thing is certain – employees will always crave the flex scheduling afforded during stay-at-home orders. Employers will have to embrace this new way of working to retain employees whether they allow employees to work from home or require them to report to an office. 

But the nagging question on my mind is this: will employees begin to crave personal connection, jokes told by the water cooler, and impromptu happy hours? My guess is yes! 

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