The pandemic's past and future impact on working from home
The pandemic sent about half of all workers from the office to home, and new research predicts that much of the impact of the WFH migration is here to stay
The 2020 pandemic created a seismic shift in the global working world, and no change was more significant than the mass migration of workers from office to home. The shift in work location has been met with mixed reactions from CEOs. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In contrast, Dana Canedy, CEO of Simon and Schuster, stated that “I’m getting my work done, and so are my colleagues. I don’t have an issue with it.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink does not think his firm will go back to the pre-pandemic model: “I don’t believe BlackRock will be ever 100% back in office. I actually believe maybe 60% or 70%, and maybe that’s a rotation of people, but I don’t believe we’ll ever have a full cadre of people in [the] office.”
As we consider the many viewpoints about what has happened in the last year, and as the end of the pandemic comes into view, two broad questions are worth asking. First, what really happened in 2020 during the great work from home (WFH) experiment? Second, what will happen when offices reopen? New research from Jose Maria Barrero (ITAM), Nicholas Bloom (Stanford), and Stephen J. Davis (Chicago) gives us an answer to the former question and a sound prediction to the latter.
Their new paper is based on monthly field surveys the researchers started conducting in May of 2020. The surveys tracked respondent demographics and WFH experience. In all, the authors collected 30,000 responses from working-age Americans. The educational level of respondents varied: 10% did not finish high school, while 50% held at least one graduate degree. Their modal respondent was a man, 40 to 50 years old with one to three years of college, who earned $40 to $50 thousand in 2019.
Let’s start our review of their research by looking at what happened during the pandemic.
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