Wider effects of working from home

More and more of us have experienced the promise – and problems – or working at home.

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

COVID had distorted our social lives, our budgets, our career tracks and perhaps most directly for many of us, our daily work schedules.

More and more of us have experienced the promise – and problems – or working at home.

For some, working at home, or remotely, has become an option or even a necessity. And for many it works, at least for now. But is it a long-term solution? Is this what we want the workplace of the future to look like?

Enough of us have been doing it long enough to see some of the problems that we may not have anticipated: https://www.wsj.com/articles/companies-start-to-think-remote-work-isnt-so-great-after-all-11595603397?.

Building a brand, forming a team and working together on a common project is vastly more difficult when team members are scattered all across town, the country or even different time zones.

Some of course, have the flexibility to take advantage of situations like this. If workers don’t have kids, mortgages or other place-based obligations, this is an ideal time to hit the road, travel or just explore other career options. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-01/covid-news-remote-work-lets-young-americans-take-road-trips?

I know a young couple, for example, who worked remotely while living in Thailand. The husband worked for a company based in Bellevue but could live and travel across Southeast Asia, which they did for a couple years. Thanks to the difference in the cost of living, they not only lived well, but also accumulated enough savings to buy a house once they did return to the US.

Those who are willing and able to do something similar just might have a memorable lifetime experience – or even a career style they can both make their own, and work within the established, though certainly modified, work environment.

Many companies, from Google to Facebook have extended remote working until mid 2021 – if not later.

According to a recent survey, almost half of all workers in Seattle (48%) were working at least part-time remotely.

Some companies, large and small, local and international, are even considering permanent remote working.

As with every aspect of COVID, the ripple effects are difficult, if not impossible, to foresee.

Will urban rents fall? Will corporate expansion in major cities decline? Will outlying areas, smaller towns with lower real estate prices, in particular, see a resurgence? Have we seen the “tipping point” of desirability of living in urban centers?

Mortgages are at an all-time high – while interest rates are at historic lows.

What will become of standard residential neighborhoods? Or even home design or preferred size?

Many of us have spent far more time than we had before at home. And many of us are making our homes more suitable for near full-time occupancy.

And more and more of us are shifting our definition of family. Three parent families are becoming both more practical and more common. (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/09/how-build-three-parent-family-david-jay/616421/)

Neighborhoods are changing. You might even say we are remaking our neighborhoods in our own image.

As I walk my own immediate neighborhood I see far more semi-permanently parked cars, more visible home projects and vastly more delivery vehicles at work.

What we have come to call “essential” workers are not “essential” in any traditional sense (though it seems that very few words or phrases mean what they meant just a few months ago), “essential” a year or two ago would have meant perhaps something closer to First Responders – those law enforcement or rescue personnel who are called to serve (and save) those in crisis.

In 2020, “essential” means an Instacart driver.

And of course, being considered essential, in 2020 at least, has little to no bearing on one’s pay. Or benefits. Or job security. Or ability to work remotely or on a preferred modified schedule.

To put it directly, working remotely is not for everyone, not for every position and not forever.

Commentators have given our late-2020 economic recovery the name “K” recovery.

In other words, for some the economy and career options are expanding – while for others the options and opportunities are declining. More people are prospering and more are in a state of anxiety, if not economic free-fall than ever before and a vocation “essential” today could be near obsolete a season from now.

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra

Are the trends and issues of 2020 the burning issues of the coming decade, or will the problems and promises of today look simplistic to those a few years or decades from now?

As we have learned in 2020, issues from toilet paper hoarding to hand sanitizer scalping can emerge out of nowhere – and evaporate just as quickly.

Will working remotely be one of those experiences, like frantically shopping for toilet paper, that will be forgotten in the blur of the non-stop barrage of news and changes burying us this year, or will working remotely permanently reshape our economy, our work schedules and our relationships with those we work with and for?

Will working remotely be like the bread-baking frenzy of a few months ago?

You may already have noticed, besides more street level empty storefronts, a noticeable change in traffic patterns. Will “rush hour” be just another one of those barbaric relics of a distant time, and join landlines, payphones and newspapers as puzzling museum-pieces to the next generation?

As we slowly move back into a less home (and Zoom) centered work schedule, will we be glad to be more separated and distinct in our home/work obligations?

Or will we miss the (mostly benign) intrusion of kids and pets into our work meetings?

Many of us have had a good, long taste of working from home and remotely. It’s been an acquired taste for some. Some of us will be glad to leave it behind. Others will have a new appreciation for the possibilities of earning a livelihood without the traditional accoutrements of attire and commuting.

“You can’t go home again” was a popular novel several years ago. The 2020 version just might be “You can’t go back to the office again”.

This story, the story we are living in, just might have an ending none of us expected.