For good or bad, working from home is here to stay

“Without Covid, I would be in Seattle,” said Andrew Sager, a graduate recently hired as a software engineer for Microsoft.

Instead of moving to Washington last August, the 23-year-old went to Miami to work remotely and live with friends on similar arrangements.

A year after the coronavirus pandemic, employers, especially tech companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Square, Spotify, Shopify, and Amazon, are applying increasingly expanded work-from-home policies.

When Microsoft announced its new guidelines that allow employees to work full time from home or move to a new location with approval, whose salaries are geographically adjusted, Sager said he had decided not to focus on what he lost, but what he gained.

Although he gives up time with colleagues and executives in the company, he has the opportunity to live wherever he wants or to move.

“Who knows? I can be anywhere,” he said.

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Similar to Microsoft’s “hybrid model”, with which employees can also work remotely from time to time, employees at Spotify can choose whether they prefer to work from home, from the office, or a combination of both.

Facebook allows certain employees to work remotely full-time under its new policy. And Twitter told employees that they can continue working from home “forever” if they so choose.

Most workers welcome this new approach. Vaccinated or not, more than half of employees said they would like to continue working from home even after the coronavirus crisis subsided, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, only 7% of workers in the US had access to “flexible workplace benefits” or teleworking. This emerges from another report by Pew, based on data from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on National Compensation.

These workers were mainly managers, clerks, and highly paid.

Of course, not all employees can work from home even now. Pew also found that there are clear class differences between workers who can and cannot telework.

For those new to work from home, the new guidelines offer a break from long commutes and lost time with family. They also allow workers to move to other potentially cheaper or more desirable locations further from city centers or office complexes.

However, teleworking has been particularly challenging, isolating, and stressful, especially for parents of young children.

There are also costs for younger workers who are just starting out.

It’s nearly impossible to build relationships through Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft teams, and so is connecting with a mentor – something that has proven particularly beneficial over the course of a career.

“It’s much harder for a new person to develop close and strong connections,” said Kevin Davis, founder and chief executive officer of First Workings, a nonprofit that helps low-income New York students secure paid internships and mentoring in the business world.

“That’s the kind of social capital that money can’t buy.”

It’s much harder to make close and strong connections.

Kevin Davis

Founder and CEO of First Workings

After graduating last May, Ernesto Morales-Valiente was hired by Amazon as a software engineer. But like Sager, Morales-Valiente did not move to Seattle. Instead, the 23-year-old from Hackettstown, New Jersey, lives in New York City to be around friends.

Despite virtual happy hours and game nights with his new employees, trying to get in touch with people he has never met personally is “really awkward,” he said.

Still, Morales-Valiente said he preferred to work remotely.

“I think my professional progress will be somewhat delayed, but it will happen,” he said.

Even for businesses planning a return to the office, it could be months or even years before the sudden shift in office culture that last year that is now the new normal is undone.

Employers expect almost 2 in 5 employees to still work remotely by the end of 2021, compared to 57% who now work remotely, although this varies by industry. This comes from a recent report from Willis Towers Watson, a social benefits consultancy.

At this point, most employers indicated that they could make it voluntary for some and compulsory for others, or set a flexible weekly schedule, according to a separate Conference Board report.

Davis advises younger workers to take the chance to return.

“When these companies return, I suggest they get to the office as soon as possible,” he said.

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