Is Home Where the Office Is?
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Is Home Where the Office Is?

Will permanently working from home prove to be a pain in the neck?

Even if the Covid-19 pandemic hits the proverbial wall in 2021, don’t expect office workers to simply stream back into their cubicles. Global Workplace Analytics forecasts that 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce will be “working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.”

The San Diego–based consulting firm projects this new reality because the pandemic has allowed many managers to get comfortable with remote work as long as their employees are productive and getting results.

Connie Wanberg, an industrial relations professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, says that estimate is about right, reflecting a trend among employees, who want flexibility to divide their work hours between the office and home. But Wanberg, an expert on organizational behavior, says many challenges need to be addressed to make remote work more durable for the long haul.

When Covid-19 started to spread across Minnesota in mid-March, people simply fled from their offices en masse and set up impromptu workspaces at home. “I’m just wondering how long that can keep up without people having ergonomics issues,” Wanberg says. “I think it is difficult for those who are working on a little laptop.”

In addition to employees dealing with neck pain and wrist issues, she says, she’s talked to workers who feel “the cost is shifting to the worker” to have the right equipment and office supplies to carry out their responsibilities.

Corporations also are looking to save money on office space. In a recent survey of CEOs conducted for KPMG, 69 percent said they planned to downsize office space.

Because workers can easily be isolated in their homes, Wanberg says managers need to step up by having frequent check-ins with workers. Most employees want to do a good job, she says, but it’s easy for them to feel disconnected from their former work cultures. “They really need to have role clarity, and they need to feel part of something,” she says.

Workers have different needs for interactions with peers. “People who tend to be more extroverted tend to be struggling a little bit more with wanting connections,” she says. “There are things that emails don’t communicate, and people are getting tired of just connecting by Zoom,” Wanberg says. “Just being able to talk in person is really valuable.”

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