Is work from home sustainable for employers around the world?

Is work from home sustainable for employers around the world?
Facebook?s test of its new Horizon Workrooms remote-working app for its virtual reality Oculus Quest 2 headsets is shown in this handout image obtained by Reuters on August 18, 2021. Facebook
Some studies have shown that companies are going back to an in-office schedule at a higher rate in Asia than they are compared to Europe and the United States.

What is work from home, again?

  • Working from home, sometimes shortened to WFH, wasn’t really a thing before the pandemic.
  • According to the American Time Use Survey, only 22% of employees worked from home in 2019, compared to almost double that in 2020.
  • A large part of this trend obviously came from the coronavirus pandemic, where people worked from home when possible to avoid the health risks of being around other people.
  • But now, as vaccination efforts around the world continue and employees are starting to return to a more normal sense of work, there is still a question of whether or not WFH would be a good option for some, post-pandemic.
  • Some think that some version of WFH could be helpful, saving companies costs and giving people a more flexible schedule on their own.
  • Others say it grows the gaps that already exist for groups like working mothers, who already have a level of disconnectedness from their work because of the hidden time cost of kids.

What does it look like in the west?

  • One of the most popular adaptations to WFH has been a hybrid schedule, where employees come to work one or two days a week to attend meetings or training. The rest of the time is spent working from home.
  • This has also come with a rise in hot-desking, where instead of everyone getting their own permanent office space, desks are available with multiple functionalities and people can use them on a come-and-go basis.
  • This means that employers can save on rent and be able to make full use what office space does get rented.
  • But it isn’t yet clear if this is going to work in the long term. Speaking to TMS, Deidre Wollard, an editor for The Motley Fool’s real estate investing arm, said that office real estate still seems like a “wild card” to most investors.
  • She also said that companies aren’t committing to long-term rentals either, and that “we are seeing more short term leases and subleasing happening.”

Are all companies in the west embracing the trend?

  • No, not entirely. For example, many of the largest American banks have criticized the WFH trend, one of the most outspoken critics being chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jamie Dimon.
  • Along with Morgan Stanley and The Goldman Sachs Group Inc, for JPMorgan, it’s a zero-sum game; employees are either all in or all out.
  • The company has called for a minimum of 50% or 100% office occupancy later this year, depending on the department and individual roles.
  • Earlier this year at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event, Dimon explained that working from home “doesn’t work for people who want to hustle, doesn’t work for culture, doesn’t work for idea generation. By September it will look just like it did before.”
  • “We are getting blowback about coming back internally, but that’s life,” Dimon added.
  • This was further echoed by Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman who said in late June, “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office. And we want you in the office."

What does it look like in the east?

  • Some studies have shown that companies are going back to an in-office schedule at a higher rate in Asia than they are compared to Europe and the United States.
  • Some of this is based on the fact that Asian companies tend to be “relatively traditional and conservative,” said Ada Choi, CBRE’s Asia-Pacific head of occupier research.
  • With that said, not every country is seeing the same level of eagerness to return to the office. For example, China’s real estate sector is still struggling to fill up office space in skyscrapers throughout the country, with vacancy rates reaching as high as 26%.

Is WFH sustainable?

  • Well, that really is the golden question, and it isn’t totally clear if there’s a simple answer to it.
  • Like Woolard explained, companies are also engaging in short term leases because they’re not sure if it’s sustainable yet either.
  • It will likely depend on the individual companies and industries as to whether or not a WFH or hybrid model will work for them or if working from the office is still the way to go.
  • For example, the tech industry will likely be able to integrate WFH or hybrid schedules better than other industries, such as education or insurance.
  • Facebook Inc. has also just announced that they are launching a new virtual-reality remote work app where users of the Oculus Quest 2 headsets can host and attend meetings as avatar versions of themselves.

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