COVID-19 is changing how we do business and changing it in a big way. It may be a lasting legacy of the pandemic. How so? As everyone knows, the coronavirus caused offices to shut down, forcing employees to work from home. To the surprise of many, that inconvenience turned out to be a huge success.
Technology was the key. Not the high-tech artificial intelligence that makes the headlines, but simple interpersonal hookups with the ability to have conversations, share data and brainstorm ideas. Teleconferencing made visual and taken to a new level.
Even before the pandemic, benefits of working at home were becoming apparent. No need to dress up if you’re sitting in front of a computer in your kitchen. More time to get things done if you’re not commuting for hours every day.
And concerns about using the extra time for personal matters were ill-founded. People weren’t goofing off. Studies showed a good part of the time freed from commuting was spent on job activities. As a voluntary perk, the remote office looked pretty good. Then COVID-19 turned the voluntary into the mandatory.
And the results have been astonishing. According to a Wall Street Journal article, with 10 million fewer commuting hours a month, office workers put 35% more time into their job. Overall productivity was said to have increased by 20% or more.
My Connecticut daughter is a case in point. Before the coronavirus, she worked at home one day a week. After the pandemic hit, her office closed and she was forced to work at home full-time. That saved two commuting hours each day, enabling her to spend more time with two young children as they dealt with the mysteries of virtual schooling.
And she could devote more time to her job. Regardless of time zone differences, working from home made it easier to connect with overseas customers. No problem attending 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
meetings from the kitchen table.
My younger son, a computer engineer in Massachusetts, had a similar experience. He commuted close to three hours a day to and from his Cambridge firm. When things shut down, he was easily able to run his portion of the business from home.
But he’s ready to go back to the office. Collaboration, important for digital-age innovation, is best done in person. “There’s nothing like an erasable whiteboard,” he told me. The ideal arrangement? Fifty percent at home, fifty percent in the office.
The at home paradigm has led to some interesting consequences. Because people can work remotely, they no longer have to put up with health risks in the big city. That has spurred a torrent of moves to the suburbs and rural communities … and to Florida, where home sales are booming.
E-commerce has helped drive the change. Some 70% of consumers say they regularly buy online for home delivery. That means fewer outside trips to interrupt work at home.
And retail giants like Walmart, Kohl’s and Best Buy are making it easy by teeing up items for online sale and guaranteeing same day delivery. Amazon upped the ante by going into the pharmacy
business. Why stand in line at your local drugstore when Amazon will fill your prescription and bring it right to your front door –just a few steps from your virtual office?
Restaurants are getting in on the action. Chains like Chipotle and Domino’s are partnering with home delivery specialists. And you don’t have to stray far from your computer to exercise. Peloton will install a home gym.
It’s a remarkable phenomenon. Stating the obvious, a Wall Street Journal observer wrote, “The stay-at-home economy is here to stay.” It is indeed.