Imagining a New Working World

Remote work telecommute working from homeBy Brett Wood, CAPP, PE

A large portion of the working world is adjusting to a new normal of working from home.

Many are doing this while also being primary caregivers for a family, head of school for children, and maintainer of sanity for a household. In this current climate, we are all juggling a lot. But as we turn the corner on a month of this new normal, I get the sense that many work-from-homers are starting to settle into this rhythm.

I have worked from home for a long time. At my previous company, I routinely worked from home when not on the road. It brought a sense of work-life balance to be home when I was home. My partners were scattered all over the country and our communication was virtual before that was a thing. We collaborated in-person at client meetings or once a quarter or so in an office. But every other day was phone/email/instant messaging/video calls.

I, for one, really like the approach. And I don’t think I’m alone. A recent state of work productivity report found that 65 percent of remote workers felt more productive, and two-thirds of their managers agreed. When you get your at home setup right, you are really able to hyper-focus and produce. What if we come out of the next few months with a workforce that is more nimble, productive, and able to work from wherever rather than the brick and mortar model?

First, our office spaces could be easily reimagined. Instead of a traditional office model with workstations for everyone, there could be collaboration space for teams to come together when needed and a smaller number of workstations for in-office days. This reduced footprint would lower the space we dedicate to office space in our cities, which could be returned to housing (an amenity in short supply, high demand, and even higher price in our cities). It would also reduce overhead costs for companies. Flexjobs reported that employers could save approximately $22,000 per year per remote worker.

What about transportation? Under our current stay-at-home orders, we have seen vehicles disappear off of our roads. Based on estimates from the last U.S. Census, there are about 115 million vehicles commuting every day with a single occupant. Reducing actual commuters and their vehicles would have astounding effects on congestion and resulting pollution.

We aren’t likely entering a world where every worker becomes a remote worker. It’s not feasible in many industries. But what if a bigger portion went that route? In 2016, the Census reported about 150 million workers. Around that time there were about 4.7 million that were remote workers. What if we tripled or quadrupled that number? That could be more than 10,000,000 vehicles per day off the road. Imagine the impacts to congestion, parking needs, pollution, travel costs, infrastructure needs, and beyond.

Brett Wood, CAPP, PE is president of Wood Solutions Group.