Controlling the WFH Genie

As we turn the corner in the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are beginning to bring their workers back on site. This return to the workplace phenomenon is starting a conversation at the worker level, the company level, and in society as a whole.

Many companies have succeeded with the transition to WFH. It may have been awkward at first, but millions of workers have tasted a better quality of life without a commute, and without many other related costs of money and time. Many workers do not want to give up WFH, now that they’ve seen that they can be effective while working from home.

I’ve been part-time WFH for almost twenty years, but I’ve also had jobs where I was commuting three to four hours each day, so I’m intimately familiar with both ends of the spectrum, as well as the middle. I am working today for an Alaska-based company while living in Washington State, so I’m a living subject in the great WFH experiment. And in the nine months since starting this job, I’ve hired workers on my team who live in Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Washington, and, yes, Alaska.

For workers, WFH represents a savings of hard money in terms of vehicle, mass transit, work wardrobe, lunches out, but also expenses to equip and maintain a home office. The soft benefits include commute time, quality of life, but also there’s the ability to work in person with colleagues and develop better in-person relationships than can be done only on video calls.

One can draw up a long list of WFH pros and cons. For most of 2020, we had no choice. But from now on, better organizations realize that WFH has many benefits:

  • Workers often put in more hours.
  • Organizations’ office space expenses are lower.
  • Employers can draw from a significantly larger labor pool when looking for new employees.
  • Existing staff have the freedom to relocate their families to other communities while keeping their same jobs.

Organizations unwilling to consider WFH workers will have a more difficult time finding qualified workers, as they will be drawing from a far smaller labor pool. Employers will have to pay more for people to work in the office to compensate for their additional time and hard expenses – AND employers will have the added cost of providing workspace for those workers they require to be on-site (and those workers who want to). Many workers will be willing to work for less if they can WFH as it is a fair exchange for a better quality of life.

One thing is for sure: the WFH genie will not be going back into the bottle. Ever.

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