As tasks are performed remotely due to the coronavirus outbreak, will the workplace ever be the same again? If workers do not need to commute to their offices in the city, do they still crave urban living?
The remote work trial run has begun. Telecommuting trends have dramatically increased over the past decade, but the coronavirus outbreak has forced everybody to adapt to this standard. As more and more people become accustomed to Zoom Meetings and chit-chat in Slack Workplaces, a lingering question remains. If people enjoy working from home, the physical bounds to the city are evaporating.
With the universal rise of technology, users are able to connect with each other with a click of a button. According to a special analysis of U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has increased by 91 percent over the past 10 years. The global pandemic has pushed jobs into unforeseen telecommuting territory, permanently shifting norms and expectations.
The freedom from the headquarters presents several advantages that may completely transform a person’s quality of life. Most importantly, workers no longer require commuting. The average commute time is 26 minutes one-way. In major metropolitan areas, the time may be double or even triple. The hours wasted in crowded cars and transit systems can be placed in projects. Less driving results in a decrease in city pollution, such as the immensely poor air quality. If workers do not need to travel to the office, however, do they still desire to enter the city on a regular basis?
27-year-old Thomas Jones works in a hedge fund in Manhattan, New York. He lives in Nutley, New Jersey, a suburban town 14 miles from the city. He wakes up at 6 a.m., catches the 7:10 a.m. bus, and arrives at his office around 8:20 a.m. After 11 hours at his desk, Jones finishes around 7 p.m. On a good day, he arrives back home by 8 p.m. At least once a week, he finally returns at 9 p.m. If Jones could work at home remotely permanently, he stated that he would without any doubt.
“Remote working is great because it eliminates almost three hours each day that I’m wasting commuting, which allows me to have a healthier sleep schedule and allows me to have a healthier diet because I can cook a healthy lunch and dinner for myself each day,” Jones said. “As far as a working standpoint, I’m able to be more productive and responsive and work more hours now.”
From a young age, Americans dream of living in the city. They are inspired by the abundant jobs, vibrant culture, flourishing art, and never-ending nightlife. In order to do so, a large majority of them sacrifice the amenities that are more commonplace in suburban areas. When residing in the city, everything is too high. Rent, density, the cost of groceries. Some choose to live outside the metropolitan area and commute, such as Jones, but in doing so they pay another price. Hours spent in public transportation wither away.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating in America’s largest urban locations, forcing individuals to leave for their own safety. If the cities that once boomed no longer provide economic growth due to a newfound preference for remote work, the era of the alluring urbanity may end.
Let’s take a look at Facebook, which is paving the way for permanent work from home. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has offered Facebook’s staff the ability to work remotely full-time, an offer that he expects half of his workforce to accept. In doing so, both parties may benefit. Workers have more flexibility and a greater work-life balance. Businesses no longer need to pay rent for their offices.
The geographic concentration of positions in industry centers are well-known in everyone’s imagination, such as finance in New York City and technology in Silicon Valley. Early in their careers, students choose colleges based on their location for greater internship and networking opportunities. If migration to the bustling city decreases, the status quo is reduced to rubble.
Of course, remote work presents new challenges that have not been carefully examined. Isolation encapsulates workers during the pandemic. Long-term, sitting in the same spot every day may raise new mental health issues. The physical and collaborative teamwork that may be vital in the production of creative projects is replaced by webcams and notifications on a computer.
“It is a little more difficult to collaborate with coworkers,” Jones said. “In the office, if you have an issue and you need to work it out with somebody in a different team, you can just get up and walk over to them and grab their attention. While here, you are kind of relying on them to either pick up their phone if you call them or respond to an instant message or look at email.”
Ordinary issues in the workspace become urgent if somebody’s notifications are turned off. Furthermore, the informal conversations in the hallways of offices are priceless. Not only are social bonds damaged, the economic effects on the macro level hinders progress. According to Zuckerberg, salaries would be adjusted according to living costs of the relocated employees.
If workers perform challenging tasks at home, but are paid less than their peers, the model will hinder team morale. The higher-ups attain cheaper labor, which increases the divide between the bosses and their employees. Additionally, costs may accumulate elsewhere. Individuals would require the purchasing of expensive state-of-the-art technology to ramp up their home offices.
The novel coronavirus has constructed a stressful experiment in the United States. Now that companies have improved communication for remote work, the question remains as to how strongly this infrastructure will be utilized by the workforce after the pandemic ends. Although remote workers may be happier with their more flexible schedules, the long-term social isolation appears disturbingly unhuman.
Perhaps workers may develop a hybrid approach in which they meet with their team at least once a week to discuss projects and socialize, but complete their daily tasks at home. Regardless of whether or not telecommuting is superior to physically being in the workplace overall, we can all agree that lengthy commute times and inadequate living standards in the city need improvement. As our society experiences a tremendous and unpreceded trial, so do our urban fantasies.