The (true) WFH alienation effect

megan mehta
FCG Fahrenheit

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As we come up on our one year anniversary of lockdown, companies are now starting to reevaluate where work should be done in the long-term.

Last week, Spotify announced that they would start a “Work from Anywhere” program — employees can work from home, in the office, or in any country. Salesforce also recently announced a new program for employees that allows them to choose the type of work style they want to have: fully-remote, office-based, and flex. Other (mostly) technology companies like Uber, Twitter, and Slack even modified their work from home policies earlier in the pandemic, however other industries have still been weary about formalizing any policies or programs on remote work.

Certain industries, like mining, construction, and agriculture just can’t be done remote. Physical labor is required, and while technology has brought advancements to these respective fields, it hasn’t completely eliminated the need for humans to be onsite (yet). Healthcare, education, entertainment, and retail have operated in a somewhat hybrid model, allowing only small gatherings of people at a time but also providing online experiences that simulate an in-person experience. In the long-run, these industries probably won’t have a hybrid model since the quality of these services improves greatly with human interaction.

A report done by McKinsey Global Institute did a study on how work productivity would be impacted based on the amount of work done from home for each industry. They found that the management and business services industry has one of the highest potential to work remotely with minimal loss of productivity, yet very few business service companies have created a robust WFH program or hybrid model that provides this flexibility for their employees. JP Morgan Chase is one of the few companies that plan to start a hybrid model with certain lines of business.

So why aren’t companies jumping on the bandwagon to reinvent their work style?

Well, businesses probably feel that they’ve invested enough into making their office spaces better environments, and switching to a WFH model could be a net loss. Also, many new employees prefer to be onboarded in-person to gauge company culture a bit better. Employees can feel disconnected at times since it can almost be harder to communicate online with constant notifications.

Companies could be skeptical about employee productivity in the long-run too; even though statistics show that most employers have seen better productivity from remote workers, it’s possible that it’s just because people are stuck at home. Once normal life resumes, the likelihood of remote work being as productive as it is now is possible but unlikely.

Remote work could be the future for a lot of industries, but not every company is ready to take that leap. With technology companies moving forward, it begs the question as to whether the tech industry will become more isolated by introducing a new way of working. The technology industries view on WFH could further divide the innovation of industries, but this time from a lifestyle point of view.

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