Anyone employed in the professional and business services sector has reason to be grateful. After all, working from home isn’t easy when you wait tables or pour drinks for a living. In January 2021, restaurants and bars shed nearly 20,000 jobs. Over 60,000 people employed in leisure and hospitality lost their jobs. The only reason it wasn’t worse? Leisure and hospitality lost 536,000 jobs the month before. During the pandemic year of 2020, employment in the sector plunged by almost 23% –– for nearly four million lost jobs. In California and numerous other states, bars and attractions closed in March and never reopened. The reason more leisure and hospitality jobs aren’t disappearing is because they’re already gone.
The economy actually added almost 50,000 jobs in January. Unfortunately, December 2020’s revised unemployment figures show that there were actually 227,000 jobs lost that month. The current unemployment rate is 6.3% partly because thousands of people have stopped trying to find work –– which means they are no longer counted as “unemployed.”
Professional and business services have been the consistent bright spot. Just in January almost 100,000 people in that sector started new jobs –– including 11,300 computer system designers and 16,100 consultants. So, yes, working at home can be challenging. Your partner, your children, even your dog serve up a steady stream of disruptions. Video conferences can be exhausting. Plus, everyone is getting a bit tired of working in their pajamas and seeing only a few faces in real life. Still, millions of remote workers are not only grateful for their jobs but aren’t all that eager to go back to the office. Many are asking not only how long will we be working from home but can I stay remote even if my office goes back to “normal.”
Remote work isn’t new. Just as tech has changed how we do our jobs, it has altered where we do them. In the 1970s, more workers went remote due to gas shortages. In India, many IT workers are fully remote. Still, in 2018 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only eight percent of all employees worked from home at least one day a week. Less than three percent did so full time. Most remote workers were contractors or freelancers. As I noted back in 2016, although 51% of Millennials reported being underemployed (stuck in positions that don’t require a degree or challenge them) only around three percent of recent graduates preferred freelance/independent work.
The pandemic-driven shift to remote work was sudden. It was filled with challenges. Yet Colorado Springs, Colorado customer support service company TTEC’s experience is typical. About 10% of the company’s employees worked remotely before the pandemic. By May of 2020, that had hit 75%. “We had that infrastructure in place, and we were able to flip around so quickly,” Arthur Nowak, senior vice president of Asia Pacific Operations for TTEC explained. “There was comfort in that work (from home) arrangement.” To the question of how long will we be working from home Nowak guesses that there will be a 50-50 split in the U.S. –– depending upon the needs of both clients and employees.
Loving Remote Life
The 21st century office wasn’t fun for a lot of people. Urban workers often endured two-to-three hour daily commutes. Open office plans made cubicles seem private by comparison. The touted teamwork and creativity the design was meant to foster was hampered by overstimulated employees who hid behind headphones –– hoping to drown out loud conversations and constantly buzzing activity. Nothing could drown out the smells –– from microwaved burritos to perfume. Worse was the constant concern about germs and illnesses that spread easily by elbow-to-elbow workers cramped within poor ventilated offices with windows that couldn’t be opened. And that was before the pandemic.
“I’m not spending money on gas to drive to work every day, I’m not eating out fast food every day,” remote worker Todd Kent pointed out in December. “Being at home in my own office and not having to worry about getting a cup of coffee and having somebody coughing on everything, it’s a relaxing atmosphere now. I don’t have to worry about getting sick from somebody. I don’t have to worry about being dragged into some office drama or gossip.” Turns out concerns about productivity are misplaced. Examining server activity on its network,NordVPN discovered that the average working day has increased by three hours in the U.S. since mid-March. For anyone worried about the environmental impact of commuting, one study suggested that if workers went to half-time remote work the savings would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking the entire New York state workforce off the road.
Many of the challenges faced by remote workers will fade as children return to in-school learning and it’s once again possible to meet co-workers for face-to-face happy hours. Tech firms like Google and Facebook have led the way. Not only have they delayed office openings until the summer or fall of 2021, they are offering many workers the opportunity to remain remote long after that. Many employees are already banking the savings by moving to a less expensive area. Employers who go to a hybrid model can save over 10K a year. Which is why even when we emerge into “normal” many offices will have smaller footprints. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that by the end of 2021, nearly one-third of all employees will work from home at least part time. This matches surveys that show 72% want a hybrid remote-office model once companies fully reopen. Just 12% want to return to full-time office work. So while companies anticipate welcoming back workers before 2022, many of them would just as soon stay at home.