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Could Working From Home Become Permanent?

Work from home computer setup

Social media platform Twitter made headlines recently when it announced that some employees will be allowed to work from home permanently, which begs the question: Could your company be next?

Most companies are in wait-and-see mode, which is logical since no one knows yet how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last or what the “new normal” may look like on the other side of the now-infamous “curve.” Often in Corporate America, decisions become a game of “Chicken” wherein everyone waits for the first mover and then everyone else quickly follows. This is often the case in the airline industry, where fare sales and other promotions are launched by one airline and then copied by all of the others.

So now that Twitter has announced its move, will other companies follow?

The reality is that many companies are just now finding out that working from home is actually doable. Traditional thinking was that workplace culture, face-to-face meetings, and a physical office building were all required to get work done; virtually every company in the world has now discovered that is not necessarily the case.

One manager who works for a client of mine recently noted that she is spending more time with her employees now than at any point when they were all physically located in the same building. Perhaps the strangest dynamic is that issues which typically resulted in sending off an email and waiting for a response have turned into jumping onto a Zoom call and solving the problem immediately. The result is actually more “face time” than before stay-at-home orders kept everyone apart.

Employee experience is more in focus than ever before. Many workers also report being busier during the day while working from home, foregoing lunch breaks and skipping the daily commute. Of course, that presents a different issue, which is that employees need to find time to exercise, relax, or otherwise “turn off” work to maintain their sanity. Then there’s the juggling of kids, pets, and WiFi bandwidth that everyone has to deal with — whether it’s happening to you or someone else in your meeting.

One major appeal for companies is the potential to cut one of the biggest expense lines out of their budgets (besides employees): the cost of maintaining a physical building, which could include mortgage or rent, maintenance, utilities, security, cleaning services, equipment, supplies, insurance, and more. Another advantage is being able to extend hiring reach beyond the physical boundaries of an office, opening up a much more diverse group of candidates for roles.

What’s known now is that the office environment won’t be the same even when people are allowed to return to work. Both traditional cubicles and “open office” designs present issues with social distancing and will have to be reorganized, while common areas like cafeterias, break rooms, copy centers, and even well-intentioned candy bowls will have to be rethought. There will be significant cleaning enhancements (at significant cost), and personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves may remain commonplace for a long time. In short, the employee experience will be much different.

So with all that hassle and expense, why not just keep employees working from home? For some, it would be considered a huge perk, especially for those people with kids and/or pets, or a long commute. For others, missing out on the social aspects of an office and working in constant isolation may be too much to handle. Twitter’s answer, which reportedly applies only to some employees, may be a good compromise.

Whatever the case, employee safety will be paramount because if employees don’t feel safe, they won’t be able to make customers feel safe.