Remote Work Revolution: Pandemic Alters American Working Norms
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the American work landscape, transitioning many employees from office cubicles to home office setups. The shift towards remote work, once seen as a temporary measure, has now become a prevalent mode of operation. Timothy Golden, a management professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, explains that the pandemic has revolutionized our perception of work, making remote work not only acceptable but also expected.
Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor reveal that about 34% of Americans worked remotely at least part of the time in 2022. This figure represents a significant increase from the pre-pandemic percentage of 24% in 2019. Several prominent companies, including Amazon, Apple, Meta [Facebook], and Disney, have reintroduced in-office work for a portion of the week. Goldman Sachs reported in October 2022 that over two-thirds of its employees had resumed full-time in-office work.
However, the shift back to the office has not been met with universal approval. Cathleen Swody, an organizational psychologist and managing partner at Thrive Leadership, reports that many employees are resisting the compulsory return to full-time office work. After three years of proving their productivity and reliability while working from home, these employees feel their competence is being unfairly questioned.
Golden, who has spent over two decades studying remote work, observes that this transition underscores the enduring struggle between managerial control and employee autonomy. Many managers feel uneasy about not being able to physically supervise their employees, which challenges their sense of control.
A 2022 survey by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that 58% of 25,000 American respondents had the option to work from home at least one day per week. Of these, 87% chose to do so. According to Ryan Luby, an associate partner at McKinsey & Company, most employees prefer a blend of remote and in-office work. This hybrid model allows them to maintain a reasonable commuting distance while enjoying the flexibility of working from home.
Interestingly, Luby notes that many employees value this flexibility more than wage increases, presenting an opportunity for employers to manage wage growth concerns by offering flexible work options. Moreover, the newest members of the workforce – recent college graduates – have entered the job market with different expectations. Having started their careers amid the remote work trend, they are more likely to seek jobs offering remote or hybrid work options.
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In conclusion, experts agree that a full-time return to the office is unlikely for most workers who have experienced remote work during the pandemic. The convenience offered by technology and the advantages for both employees and employers are too significant to ignore. As Swody puts it, “The horse has been let out of the barn… It’s going to be very hard to go back to where we were.