Personal Finance

For better or worse, working from home is here to stay

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Key Points
  • Most employees welcome the work-from-home policies that have been adopted since the start of the pandemic.
  • However, for those just starting out, there's a downside to never stepping foot in an office building.
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Data shows remote work to become the norm for most companies

"If it wasn't for Covid, I would be in Seattle," said Andrew Sager, a recent graduate who was hired as a software developer for Microsoft.

Instead of moving to Washington state last August, the 23-year-old went to Miami to work remotely and live with friends with similar arrangements.

One year into the coronavirus pandemic, employers, particularly tech companies like Microsoft, TwitterSquare, SpotifyShopify and Amazon, are increasingly adopting extended work-from-home policies.

When Microsoft announced its new guidelines, which includes allowing employees to work from home full time with approval or move to a new location with salaries adjusted based on geography, Sager said he decided not to focus on what he was losing but rather what he was gaining.

Although he is giving up face time with co-workers and senior leaders at the company, he has the opportunity to live wherever he wants or move around.

"Who knows? I can be anywhere," he said.

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Not unlike Microsoft's "hybrid model," which also allows employees to work remotely part of the time, employees at Spotify can choose whether they'd prefer to work full time from home, from the office or a combination of the two

Facebook is allowing certain employees to work remotely full time as part of its new policy. And Twitter told employees they can continue working from home "forever" if they wish.

For the most part, workers applaud this new approach. Vaccinated or not, more than half of employees said that, given the option, they would want to keep working from home even after the coronavirus crisis subsides, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had access to a "flexible workplace" benefit, or telework, according to another report by the Pew based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent National Compensation survey.

Those workers were mostly managers, white-collar professionals and highly paid. 

Of course, not all workers have the ability to work from home, even now. There's a clear class divide between workers who can and cannot telework, Pew also found. 

For those who can work from home for the first time, the new policies offer a reprieve from long commutes and lost time with family. They also allow workers to move to other potentially less expensive or more desirable locations, further from city centers or office complexes. 

But telecommuting has been especially challenging, isolating and stressful, particularly for parents of young children.

For younger workers just starting out, there is also a cost.

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Here's what workers lose by working from home for long periods—or permanently

It's nearly impossible to cultivate relationships over ZoomSlack or Microsoft Teams and the same goes for connecting with a mentor — something that has proven to be especially beneficial over the course a career

"For a new person, it's much more difficult to establish close and strong connections," said Kevin Davis, founder and executive director of First Workings, a nonprofit that helps low-income students in New York secure paid internships and mentorships in the business community.

"That's the sort of social capital that money can't buy."

It's much more difficult to establish close and strong connections.
Kevin Davis
founder and executive director of First Workings

After graduating last May, Ernesto Morales-Valiente was hired by Amazon as a software engineer. But, like Sager, Morales-Valiente didn't move to Seattle either. Instead, the 23-year-old from Hackettstown, New Jersey, is living in New York City to be near friends.

Despite virtual happy hours and game nights with his new co-workers, trying to socialize with people he has never met in person is "really awkward," he said.

Yet Morales-Valiente said he prefers working remotely.

"I think my career progress will be delayed a little bit, but it will happen," he said.

Even for those companies that are planning a return to the office, it could still take months or even years to unwind last year's sudden change in office culture, which is now the new normal.

Employers expect nearly 2 in 5 employees will still be working remotely at the end of 2021, compared with 57% who work remotely now, although that varies by industry, according to a recent report by Willis Towers Watson, a benefits consulting firm.

At that point, most employers said they may make it voluntary for some and mandatory for others or adopt some sort of flexible weekly schedule, according to a separate report from The Conference Board.

Davis advises younger workers to jump at the chance to return.

"If and when those companies do go back, I suggest they get into the office as fast as they can," he said.

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