Work-From-Home (WFH) ‘is the biggest shift in how we work since the invention of the automobile,’ says Mark Cenedella of Ladders, a New York career consultancy. Furthermore, says Cenedella, WFH is here to stay.

Others analyzing the pandemic world use stronger superlatives. A Forbes article calls WFH as transformative as the industrial revolution of the 1700s. MIT-trained futurist, Mark Pesce, says ‘The pandemic appears to have reversed the migration toward urban centers that has been going on since the start of the industrial revolution.’

Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom, a huge beneficiary of WFH, crows, ‘Work is no longer a place, it’s a space…’

Pesce continues: ‘People are now fleeing cities like San Francisco while rewriting the rules of office work.  After all, why maintain expensive homes in or near a city when you can work from anywhere, via satellite?’

Relocation

Indeed. Remote work is allowing employees to relocate to where buying or renting is cheaper. While a median priced home in Palo Alto in the Silicon Valley is $3.3 million, in Austin, Texas it is $573 000.

Not surprisingly, tech workers who can are moving. The San Francisco Bay Area is losing population while places like Austin, Boise, Tampa, Miami, and the Carolinas are growing, with accompanying sharp rises in home prices. What makes for a winning destination?  Zonda, a California housing analytics firm, says winners offer lower taxes, active lifestyles, employment opportunities, and good weather.

Ali Wolf, Zonda’s chief economist, says only a third of US employees working at home during the pandemic have returned to the office.  And most want to continue working remotely. Similarly, LinkedIn finds that 87% of US employees working remotely want to stay that way. 

Why? Because they have more time for family, save money and time on commuting, save money on gasoline, lunches, and dry cleaning.  And they have more time for hobbies and visits to the gym.

Problems for employers

WFH is posing headaches for employers.  How do they lure workers back to the office?  After all, Apple Park in Cupertino can accommodate 12 000 employees and currently it is only about 20% filled. In addition, many Apple WFH employees are resisting even hybrid work, a combination of office and work from home.

In New York financial firms want people back at least once or twice a week.  Bankers like JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon say face-to-face meetings are essential and team building isn’t easily achieved with video conferencing.

Inequality

Of course, not all sectors of an economy can work from home.  Manufacturing can’t. Hospitals can’t and neither can construction, landscaping, and other occupations. Thus, WFH’s impact is uneven. And its beneficiaries tend to be people who are highly paid.  It may be—even with pay downgrades for WFH people moving to lower cost areas—that remote work accentuates wealth inequality.

We’re only 20 months into the WFH phenomenon; any conclusions now are suspect.  However, early evidence suggests mental health problems are aggravated from working from home. Isolation from co-workers and projects can create anxiety and depression.  Lack of social interaction is problematic.

WFH is a global trend as the whole world is impacted by Covid-19.  In South Africa a leading research institution has closed its headquarters, told staff to work from home, and terminated the lease on its building. In Michigan a leading medical provider has told its billing department employees to work from home indefinitely.  The Ford Motor Company has told 30 000 WFH employees that they may do so permanently.

The WFH revolution could not have happened without the internet, high-quality, fast connections, and easy to use, free video conferencing technology.  The biggest corporate winner is San José-based Zoom Video Communications. The company was founded by Chinese-born Eric Yuan, 51, who owns 22% of the company.  Yuan got his start at Cisco Systems, the networking giant whose Webex application trails far behind Zoom.  Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are also players.

Mark Pesce, the futurist, is an American living in Australia. He writes in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (I Triple E):

‘The magnitude of the change that many people made over the last year cannot be overemphasized. Within hours of the planet effectively shutting down in mid-March 2020, many information-based businesses resumed operations, more or less unaffected. An entire population of office workers continued to carry out their daily tasks without skipping a beat. That is nothing less than miraculous.’

Miraculous indeed, but with an impact that is as yet unclear.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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contributor

Washington writer Barry D. Wood for two decades was chief economics correspondent at Voice of America News, reporting from 25 G7/8, G20 summits. He is the Washington correspondent of RTHK, Hong Kong radio. Wood's earliest reporting included covering key events in South and southern Africa, among them the Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola and the Soweto uprising in the mid-1970s. He is the author of the book Exploring New Europe, A Bicycle Journey, based his travels – by bicycle – through 14 countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of Russian communism. Read more of his work at econbarry.com. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07OIjoanVGg