What Happened to US Offices When They Closed for the Pandemic

Young man working at home office.
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For many workers before COVID-19, working-from-home was not a common practice. Once the pandemic hit, WFH became a way of life for 51% of workers. Now that businesses have realized the savings of having employees work remotely, 83% of offices are thinking about permanently making work more flexible. Though it saves businesses money, how much more is it costing employees–both financially and mentally–in the long run? And how can we expect the workforce to look in the future?

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How Businesses Are Saving Money

Companies that hadn’t even considered going fully remote before the pandemic are starting to see the beauty of it. With no one in the offices for months, businesses were able to stop paying rent and utilities, which saved them thousands of dollars. This also means not having to pay for cleaning services, saving another huge chunk of change. Many companies also offered snacks, or catered lunch which was yet another thing that was no longer a concern once the pandemic hit.

Telecommuting also creates an uptick in productivity. One Stanford study reported remote workers accomplish 13% more than those in an office. This can be attributed to no lost time commuting, and the ability to work around scheduled events like doctors’ appointments

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The Costs of WFH

Though employees are saving on commute costs, only 14% of companies in the United States provided their employees with an ergonomic setup for their home office–if they had a home office at all. This cost workers hundreds of dollars out of their pocket by way of desks, office chairs, laptop stands, monitors and the like. Electricity bills also reportedly went up 15-30% while more people were home in the summer of 2020. Only a few states require that companies reimburse employees for expenses when they’re required to work from home, so many people were on their own for the new and unexpected costs

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In addition to a financial hit, many employees are feeling an emotional decline. Some workers are feeling isolated and unmotivated while in such dire circumstances. Though people are working in their homes, which seems like a calmer environment, only 24% reported feeling less stressed than when they were in the office. According to the same study, 42% reported an increase in stress since going fully remote

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The Hybrid Approach

Obviously, there’s no perfect solution, but companies are trying to create a compromise between remote work and office work. Companies like Zillow are giving more autonomy to employees, allowing them to choose when they come to the office and when they work from home depending on their schedule’s needs. Other companies like Trivago will test out a hybrid model based on seniority. New employees will be required to do in-person training for at least a week, while more tenured employees will come into the office for one or two weeks every month

The longevity of these approaches depends on employee feedback. Just like working during a pandemic was unchartered territory, so is the post-pandemic workforce. Employers will have to try these new methods out and see how employees adapt before committing to anything permanent. 

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