Stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19 have changed working habits. The mandatory work-at-home advice for office jobs has created a debate about work after the health crisis. Will we continue to work at home or will we return to the office?
Some have stated that people who work from home must have lower pay. The research team at Deutsche Bank had even proposed a tax for remote workers to help support essential jobs that can’t be done at home.
But remote work can be a good opportunity for enterprises and workers if used with flexibility and case by case.
The advantages of remote work
One of the main advantages of remote work is financial. A lot fewer logistics are required for society and workers. People who work in an office have to pay commuting costs, such as public transit, gas or maintenance expenses and parking for those who drive.
When working remotely, people aren’t stuck in traffic and don’t have to consider the time of travel between home and office.
Some costs are associated with working from home, especially related to electricity and internet devices.
But studies show that working from home improves productivity.
The Wall Street Journal cites a survey by the University of Irvine: “Office workers are interrupted – or self-interrupt – roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task.”
A survey conducted in California during the pandemic tracked a 47 per cent increase in worker productivity. This better performance can be attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment and fewer breaks and sick days.
And a better environment leads to more work satisfaction and better health.
Remote work can also allow businesses to make logistical cuts. There’s no need to buy or rent a large office because most of the staff are at home. That allows for cheaper offices or virtual offices.
Working from home also makes it easier for staff to relocate.
The development of remote work isn’t without consequences for the organization of cities. A remote worker can do their job from anywhere if they have electricity and an internet connection. They don’t have to be in the city where the office is located, or even in the same municipality or province.
With less space and fewer workers in offices, town centres will have less density.
And people will be more reluctant to live in expensive cities if they can work from anywhere. This will accelerate the departure of workers from large cities to smaller centres. Affordable suburbs will have a growing role in city organization, supplanting expensive town centres.
Closing non-essential shops has already weakened the attractable nature of downtowns. If the trend to remote work becomes too significant, we will see a reconfiguring of communities. Well-connected and technological towns will be an asset.
Flexibility and adaptability are keys
Remote work isn’t a miracle solution. Working from home depends on the structure of enterprises and organizations. It’s not possible to do some jobs from home, especially physical ones. And a worker’s personality is important since some people work better in the office. Each case is unique, and flexibility is essential.
Also essential is that the choice of working at home versus working in the office must be made by the business, not by a coercive authority like the government.
Forcing people to work remotely through taxation, for example, isn’t a good solution. Workers and businesses know more than government about what’s good for them.
Alexandre Massaux is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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