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The Challenges and Benefits of Return to Office, Remote Work and More in 2021

How are office spaces changing after the events of 2020? And what does the future of remote work look like? Recently, we got the chance to discuss the topic of remote work with Dr. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, whose research focuses on working from home, management practices and uncertainty.

According to a Gallup poll, almost 60% of U.S. workers were still working remotely as of January, and according to Bloom’s recent research, one in three American workers is preparing to keep working from home in some capacity. That would quadruple the time employees spend at home to 22% of all workdays — a massive shift away from the office that he argues would have taken 20 years without the events of 2020.

Over the years, Bloom has helped Fortune 500 management suites across the world realize the benefits of the work-to-life balance or “nice-to-people stuff,” as he puts it. And while a hybrid model may not work for all of those employers, its popularity keeps growing across the workforce.

In 2010, Bloom’s research expanded into a randomized, in-field study at a Shanghai-based travel company to test his thesis that promoting a healthy work-life balance had to include work-from-home accommodations and would significantly boost the company’s success long term. And he was right — the company jumped from a $5 billion evaluation to $22 billion in six short years, fueled in part by an increase in employee productivity led by remote workers, who outperformed their in-office peers by 13 percent, leaving managers “astounded.”

A woman is engaged in technology.

Bloom’s research has shown employees enjoy fewer distractions at home, which causes them to work longer hours and take shorter, more effective breaks. While enhanced remote technology combined with the flexibility to live outside the city makes remote work alluring to some, Bloom also admits that many transitions to a remote model can be messy if not planned with care.

And that his recent studies have led him to change his mind on the supremacy of remote work.

“The fully remote plane is about to crash,” he theorizes. “I’m surprised it’s lasted this long – probably only due to the social capital we’ve built prior to the pandemic. Hybrid is really the sweet spot long-term.”

Illustrated by the 8 percent of the American workforce working remotely prior to 2020, employees have historically hesitated to opt into working from home in fear of missing out on access to opportunities and promotions. Justifiably so, as Bloom’s research found that they’re 50 percent less likely to receive promotions compared to their in-office peers.

Next to the problem of disgruntled workers leaving for greener pastures, Bloom also fears that inconsistent schedules give way to a host of issues: How can we ensure efficient use of office spaces across all days of the week? How do you define work time at home when life gets in the way? And how can companies look ahead to prevent any liability issues caused by promotion disparities?

Adopting a comprehensive human capital management platform could be part of the answer. A one-stop, streamlined HR and payroll software gives you access to time and attendance tools, scheduling assistance and compliance resources that can help you tackle these issues head-on, no matter which model your company decides to adopt.

And once a decision is made, Bloom cautions not to leave the implementation up to choice. He recommends working with a small group of enthusiastic volunteers and letting those employees lead the charge while urging businesses to ensure a clear, level playing field for all demographics.

“Post-pandemic we want people back in the office,” Bloom said. “You need to be there to be creative, to be innovative, to build company culture.”


Disclaimer: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.