As offices reopen, employees increasingly expect to be able to work from home. Not only does it improve productivity, but it is accompanied by reduced costs for both employees and businesses. However, most employees still prefer the office for certain tasks and don't want to work remotely all of the time. Working in the office 2 to 3 days a week provides an optimal balance.
Working from home was first made possible by telephones in private homes, when more than 90% of homes in the US were connected in the 1970s. Networked computers, and eventually the internet and e-mail, allowed more tasks to be performed without a physical presence in the office. However, it wasn't until the arrival of broadband internet and video conferencing that the door to true remote work was opened at the beginning of the millennium.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of US companies that allowed WFH steadily increased from 28% to 54%2. Across the Atlantic, adoption varied among the EU-27, but increased from an average of 5.2% of workers in 2009, to 9% in 2019. More than 35% of workers in the Netherlands and Sweden worked remotely in 2019, versus less than 5% in Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus4.
COVID-19 caused a step-change to this trend, and in 2020, 66% of US companies allowed some form of remote work according to Glassdoor3, and 42.2% of workers in the EU-27 worked from home in early 20216.
While offices are reopening and vaccination rates are increasing, it is expected that more workers will continue to work from home than before the pandemic4. Not only do workers prefer to work remotely, but increasingly they expect it. Yet, the majority (65%) of US workers would prefer a hybrid model that allows them to work from home when it suits them5. For example, the majority of workers would rather attend large "all-hands" meetings virtually, but would prefer in-person client meetings. In the EU-27, 75.8% of workers would prefer to work from home some of the time, but only 15.7% want to work from home all the time6.
In a 2015 study1 of a NASDAQ listed company, employees that were assigned to work from home (WFH) were 13% more productive compared to those working from the office. However, when allowing employees to choose to work from home when it suited them, it led to a 22% productivity increase. Providing flexibility seems to be key to productivity.
Similar productivity gains have been reported in Europe, where the majority of remote workers reported increased productivity9. In France, a 2015 survey found that 84% of remote workers reported increased productivity and 81% reported that the quality of their work increased8.
However, there are significant drawbacks to permanently working from home, especially for prolonged periods. Workers that never see colleagues face-to-face have reported a sense of isolation, less work satisfaction and a blurring of home and work7. It has been suggested that the relationship between the number of remote days worked and productivity is an inverted U-shape: productivity increases due to remote work, but then starts to decline the longer you work remotely. The ideal balance seems to be around two or three days of remote work a week7.
Companies that allow flexible remote working can achieve significant savings on rental and office costs. This is because they need fewer desks and a smaller total surface area. The savings are the most striking in bigger cities. In 2011, a Shanghai call center noted office-related savings of $1900 per year for each employee that transitioned to remote work1. Fixed-desk offices in New York cost over $11k annually per employee, while flexible offices only cost only $6k annually per employee10, a saving of nearly 45%.
Employees that work from home save on commuting costs, and those that commute in cars also benefit from lower maintenance costs. In the long-term, remote workers could even consider living in neighbourhoods further from the city center that have lower rental prices.
In New York, the average commute time is more than an hour per day, but for nearly 20% of commuters it is more than 2 hours a day11. When working remotely, time that was previously spent commuting can now be spent on personal errands, childcare, or relaxing.
Private transportation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, contributing nearly 60% of all US transportation emissions12. Working from home significantly lowers emissions related to commuting. In 2014, a remote work program was found to reduce carbon emissions by over 2 metric tons per employee per year12.
The way we work has changed, and it is increasingly apparent that this change will be permanent. Offices will be smaller and more cost-effective, and teams will be given the freedom to work from home when they need to. Offices remain vital: creative work, brainstorming, and collaboration all benefit from seeing each other in-person some of the time. A desk booking system like Deskdragon allows you to set up a flexible work environment that can adapt to the new way of work.
1 Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying (2015), Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 130, Issue 1, Pages 165–218, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qju032
2 Daniel Zhao (2020) Work From Home: Has The Future of Work Arrived? https://www.glassdoor.com/research/working-from-home/
3 Statista (2021), Change in remote work trends due to COVID-19 in the United States in 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1122987/change-in-remote-work-trends-after-covid-in-usa/
4 Milasi S, I González-Vázquez and E Fernandez-Macias (2020), “Telework in the EU before and after the COVID-19: where we were, where we head to”, JRC Science for Policy Brief.
5 SurveyMonkey (2021), What workers really want from the “hybrid” workforce, https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/future-of-work-zoom-poll/
6 Eurofound (2020), Living, working and COVID-19 dataset, Dublin, http://eurofound.link/covid19data
7 Manuela, Samek, Lodovici, et al. (2021), The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=IPOL_STU%282021%29662904
8 Batut, C. and Tabet, Y. (2020), What do we know about the economic effects of remote work?, https://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/Articles/7b3be9a0-7f07-4c7b-b5f9-85319aa7d02b/files/1527a501-7e52-4f7b-8dca-ba8a18f5a20d
9 Eurofound (2020), Telework and ICT-based mobile work: Flexible working in the digital age, New forms of employment series, https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef19032en.pdf
10 LiquidSpace (2021), New York City Flexible Office Space Report, https://liquidspace.com/us/ny/new-york/flexible-office-report.
11 The Center Square (2020), Average one-way commute time for New York residents reaches 33.3 minutes, https://www.thecentersquare.com/new_york/average-one-way-commute-time-for-new-york-residents-reaches-33-3-minutes/article_d37b99d4-18b0-11eb-830b-132ac7bdd8f5.html
12 United States Environmental Protection Agency (2019), Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions, https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions
13 Onley (2015), How Telecommuting Helps the Environment, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/how-telecommuting-helps-the-environment.aspx