It’s wild to think that just a few weeks ago, we were taking for granted our normalcy. The Coronavirus seemed like a Chinese problem like many of the previous outbreaks before it. You were able to go out to the bar for a beer, go to the gym for a lift, and shop at your grocery store with the comfort of knowing what you needed was in stock. Within days, all of that has been upended and we have passed through a plane into a new world.
One of the ways this new world has changed human behavior is through work. Before, of course, many of us woke up every morning, got dressed, and headed to the office for our 40 hour work week. Whether it was seven to four, or nine to five, we spent thousands of hours of our lives within the confines of offices. More draconian companies expected prompt arrival at a certain time and a punch out no earlier than what was mandated. Even for trendy tech behemoths who have flexible scheduling and kombucha bars expected consistent appearance at your desk. Higher ups wanted to see their human investments proving their ROI from the proximity of their desks.
Oh, how that will change.
You’re probably reading this from the comfort of your couch in a wrinkled t-shirt with cow-licked hair not even aware you’ve passed through the plane into the new world. With shelter-in-place declarations and company supported work from home, much of America’s workforce is working remotely. For many, this is only week two or three of mandatory work from home. It is my prediction that we will be adhering to remote work for months to come. Coronavirus is threatening to our health care system and could overload it if not contained. We will see cyclical breakouts in the coming years as new cases erupt in unvaccinated and immunity-deprived areas. Eventually, one day, Covid-19 will just be another flu we vaccinate for. If the case is that normalcy is years away, then we are in store for a rewriting of what that means.
I believe companies will experience a majority benefit in remote work. Their employees will cling to their jobs as unemployment soars. Employee productivity from the remaining workforce will have an direct relationship with unemployment rise. They will see that their fancy office spaces are actually unneeded overhead that can be trimmed to free up cash. The work space will become decentralized. An emerging industry of work from home products will flourish as employees begin to invest in their home offices much like their employers once did. Where we work will change, but also when we work. Quarantine has freed up a massive amount of time in the employee’s day. Happy hours, soccer games, movie nights, and more evaporated from the American social fabric almost over night. Our extra curricular time is mostly just spent at home. Thus, with little schedule compression, the eight hour work day will slowly dissolve into a more amorphous blocks of time we choose to work. Flexible work schedules will be prolific and expected by new hires. Perhaps we’ll even see a second guessing of the 40 hour work week and how arbitrary it’s now become. Lastly (and hopefully), we will revisit how taxes apply to remote workers. After cities and some states issue shelter in place declarations, they will have forced certain individuals to not be able to come home. These employees will truly be remote. As they enter spans of time that introduce tax complications, there will be a need to waive this draconian practice.
In my 29 years on Earth, the Coronavirus pandemic is the most pivotal human experience I’ve had the wits to understand. Like many have said about 911 bringing about the security state and the loss of our privacy rights, we will be stepping into a different way of life after this event. I’m hoping, of course, that step is up and to a better world. I for one love working remotely and can’t imagine how it’s not more prolific already. The post-pandemic world may be just the thing to make it so.