When employers were forced to shutter their offices due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, no one could have imagined the immense societal change working from home would establish around the world. Two years on from the first wave of pandemic closures, employers and employees continue to be locked in a battle for the future of work.
And it is a battle employers are set to lose.
According to Bryan Robinson, a contributor to Forbes, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023. The good news for employees, many employers wanted workers back in the office as soon as possible. It just won’t happen long-term.
About a third of all workers say they prefer being fully working from home. Yet only 24% say they are capable of it. The number of workers who say they will be hybrid stands at double the ‘fully remote’ figure at 54%.
Hybrid work is a confusing term that refers to a dual work option, both at home and in the office. The best compromise between staff and management, hybrid work, will drive the future of the service sector. But fully remote work is not going anywhere, anytime soon. A Gallup survey predicted fully remote work, and fully in-office work, with each, representing about a quarter of the total remote capable workforce.
In-office, hybrid, or remote options will define the new relations between workers, managers, and the work itself.
In 2015 the US workforce had shifted in a dramatic way. Baby boomers, the largest generation ever, began to trickle out of the workforce and were officially supplanted by Millennials. Born between 1980 and 1996, Millennials are drastically different from the previous generations.
Unlike the post-war boom that raised the Boomer generation, and Gen X, every millennial was born into a dragging economy. With wages stagnating from the 1980s onward, Millennials have less incentive to work for companies in offices, with low pay.
Without the means to afford the American Dream, millennials have taken to remote work, quiet quitting, and The Great Resignation much faster than older generations. And the data backs that up. More than half of all millennial hybrid workers would quit their jobs if told to return to the office solely. For baby boomers, that figure was only 33%.
The young (under forty) subgroup will drive the front lines to keep remote work a possibility. Young and tech-savvy, companies will need these cohorts to grow in the digital age. But managers do not want to trust individuals they do not see on a daily basis.
When the dust settles, younger groups will have to make sacrifices to stay remote. Managers will offer employment to these groups, but with more flexible contract arrangements. Sixty-four percent of managers surveyed already believe freelance and contractual work will replace full-time work.
For the freedom to work from anywhere, younger generations will be the new gig workers. What Uber did to taxis, will happen to law offices, marketing teams, and other tertiary sectors This arrangement can work for all if wages can make up for the difference in job security.
As remote work grows, those who can do those jobs: copywriting, human resources, etc., will flock to these roles. With no geographical limit, American workers can apply for Dutch jobs, and vice versa. This frees up labor to work internationally instead of being forced into physically present work like retail.
The over-educated workforce is taking this as an opportunity to move into remote work, and avoid retail. The lack of workers in retail then gives fast food workers, and other retail employees, excessive bargaining power. Just look at Starbucks lately. Over the course of the next few years, retail work will need wage gains to entice educated workers.
We need to be honest. A fast food worker will never make as much as a remote programmer. Instead of overpaying low-skilled work, retail will expand through mechanization and more remote work. New automated store solutions, provided by groups like Pixevia will delete workers from retail, but increase the stock of remote jobs with tech support, customer service reps, and other roles created to support automation.
For those highly skilled workers who could be remote but opt to stay in the office, there will be benefits. There is real talk about paying in-office workers more. In the short term, this may happen, but as baby boomers start to retire, companies may just run out of anyone who wants to come into work.
According to Gallup, most workers preferred hybrid and remote work to avoid commutes and provide better work-life balance. And many still wanted to be in offices at times to support co-workers and build relations. Keeping the aspects workers want and throwing away the rest is integral to the future of remote work. But long-term demographic trends mean talent will increasingly and militantly demand remote options. In the short term, managers will have a leg up on remote workers, forcing many into offices at least on a hybrid schedule.
But even in the short term, smart companies will ride the new normal to more dialectic solutions. Instead of replicating our online spaces to act like offices, the future of hybrid work will need offices to look more like our online spaces. Working in a hybrid setting, remote workers will only physically meet co-workers they work on projects with.
Prioritizing the productive effects of relationships, the large downtown office will become unnecessary. Instead, co-working spaces will have their renaissance. Think, the internet cafés of the mid-2000s, meets the hipster coffee shops of today. A hub for freelancers and remote workers, these places will be the dens of innovation WeWork was supposed to be.
Mixing workers with similar roles at different companies, these ‘offices’ will take on new meaning as companies come to resemble modern agencies or medieval guilds. Local freelancers can access resources, information, and jobs surrounded by other service sector workers. Stubborn people fight the currents of change and drown. Smart companies can pick up a surfboard and ride into the new normal.