Can Remote Work Save Us?
Not everybody can work remotely and not everybody wants to but we learned some interesting things during the Great Zoom Pandemic. Here are some of the benefits we saw:
- One of these things was that worker productivity generally remained stable and even improved in some cases.
- Another was that commuting truly is a drag and most of us are not in a hurry to resume.
- Another is that because demand for gas dropped so low, it became a buyer’s market and prices dropped precipitously.
- Another is that the carbon footprint of the nation dropped with so fewer cars on the road.
- Another is that office spaces didn’t have to be heated and air conditioned because no one was there in many cases.
- Another was people recovered quality time with their families and friends which added to the quality of life.
- Another was people found they could conduct all sorts of meetings, seminars and conferences remotely, reducing the need for air travel and all the hassle and expenses entailed.
- Another is that many businesses downsized their office rentals and often switched to WeWork-type shared offices for occasional meetings, saving gobs of money.
- Another is that physical location became less critical and the hiring pool became nation-wide and so it is easier to find just the right people with this physical limitation taken away.
- Another is folks found new ways to celebrate events such as graduations with multi-media and in depth stories about teachers and students instead of sweating away indoors in an arena somewhere.
- Another is folks found that they could move to more remote locations in the country and still perform their urban jobs.
- Another is that one can go visit family or take a mini-vacation and still log into work with a laptop, just at a different location.
- Another is animals such as birds seemed to enjoy the quieter and safer world with fewer drivers buzzing around.
Now of course quite a bit of this has rebounded and some companies are slowly reverting to the in-office model and make their employees jump through the commuter hoop again, but not all. I work for a pretty large company in the education space and they remain committed to the remote model, and have done quite well and not seeing a compelling business reason to revert—so far.
As a programmer, my work is about moving electronic symbols around on a computer screen and I can’t do it any faster or better sitting in a cubicle. In fact I am much more productive in my remote office where I can also listen to music, take a call from an old friend without disturbing anyone, etc. I start refreshed, not having commuted and I actually don’t pay as much attention to the clock and regularly do work-related tasks at any time of day I feel like it. I know my objectives and I reach my objectives without fail, if not exceed them. Also, while in the office, there were many more distractions. Just walking over to the water cooler could result in a 10 minute conversation about a dog or whatever. Sure, I miss my in-person colleagues but I’m fine meeting up on a much more sparse basis as we do now, everything else considered. Most of my colleagues feel the exact same way.
Not everybody is an information worker like me but it’s amazing how many people do most of their work with a phone and a computer. My neighbor is an insurance consultant and she loves working remotely and doesn’t miss a beat. I know writers, consultants, salespeople who thrive remotely.
62% of remote employees say they’d be happy to work from home forever.
So the question is how much of our workforce could switch entirely to the remote paradigm and not suffer any loss in productivity?
37% of jobs in the U.S. can be done remotely (National Bureau of Economic Research).
Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of remote work from all perspectives.
As much as I would love to have everybody enjoy the same benefits as I have enjoyed with remote work there is still a ton of things that require physical presence to achieve whether it’s in restaurants, hospitals or factories so we can’t quite create a commuterless paradise at this point. Nevertheless, if we could reduce commuter traffic by 37% and greatly reduce air travel for conferences and meetings, why not? It’s one way we can impact global warming while we transition to cleaner EV’s. By reducing demand we can also have more say in how oil is marketed even though we know oil companies will work to reduce supply to match us but many of us would still be filling up less often. Each year that goes by brings us closer to breaking the oil addiction and electric cars and trucks are slowly but surely becoming normalized.
I believe that many jobs that can’t be done remotely can and will be automated at some point whether it’s manufacturing or trucking so society is going to go through a serious reckoning as to what to do with all those underemployed people. I personally believe we can work this to all of our benefits with cleaner air, quieter cities and more fulfilling lives with our families and friends. It’s only a matter of how to pay for everything or whether we have to pay for everything. I don’t see a way to stop it other than enact drastic controls over what and how much can be automated.
All that said, I’m a fan of remote work for those that can do it, even if it’s the hybrid form with some days in the office and some remote and feel it benefits humanity and is only possible because of technological advances. It may not save us by itself, but it is a practical thing we can do right now to take some of our relentless pressure off the environment while reaping personal benefits. So I see it as a win-win.