WFH Data and Future Office Evolution
A New Standard
It is no longer a trend, it is a standard. Twitter formally opened the Pandora’s Box of work from home (WFH) and then Google piled on, as did Facebook, Apple, Zillow, REI, Square, Uber, Airbnb, Hitachi, and others. And most recently, Pinterest paid $89.5 million to terminate an office lease on a San Francisco building…that has not yet been built! All of these companies have stated a policy of allowing most employees to work from home at least until next summer, or indefinitely, or even permanently. It is not much different in Europe where 88% of companies now allow WFH options as opposed to only 4% pre-Pandemic.
And to the surprise of no one, other than corporate taskmasters and old school managers who frame and hang their org charts, for the most part, most people like working from home, most of the time. Of 1,100 people working from home polled by The New York Times and Morning Consult, 86% said they were satisfied with doing so. Approximately 60% cited more connection with family, more focus on personal health, and more personal time as benefits. Almost a third would seriously consider moving to a new city or state if their WFH was a permanent option. Many of these respondents noted they would move to a cheaper location or to be closer to family. An anonymous survey by TeamBlind.com of over 4,000 tech employees revealed that 66% if allowed to WFH permanently, would seriously consider moving away from the San Francisco Bay Area. And according to Owllabs.com, 74% of employees who WFH say it makes them less likely to leave their employer. The average salary of WFH workers is over $100,000 per year.
Who are these happy people? They are white-collar, higher income, educated workers who can afford the technology to efficiently work from home (assuming their employer is not providing such technology, as many are). More and more they are workers who have the means to physically utilize a dedicated home workspace or are simply moving to the suburbs for more living space. This is especially evident in the San Francisco Bay Area as rents decline in parts of San Francisco but rents and home prices are increasing in highly desirable near-by suburbs like Marin County. Not all WFH workers can afford this of course. Certainly not the service and healthcare workers that still commute to work each day and have, for the most part, throughout this global ordeal. The reality and ramifications of this disparity has provided often heated conversations online and off.
Assuming some of the current WFH employees return to an office post-Pandemic, what will that office look like? The only thing I know for sure is that it will not, for the most part, and for most companies that can afford it, resemble the offices abandoned months ago.
There will be new, extensive and advanced cleaning protocols that involve more than the usual disenchants, such as sophisticated UV lighting systems used in hospitals. There will be less soft fabric surfaces and more hard, antimicrobial surfaces and Nano-touch coatings on contact points like buttons and door handles. But you’ll also see less of those contact points. Smart phone ID, voice activation and iris-scans could replace all those germ-laden door handles, elevator buttons, remote devices. Expect physical distancing, plexiglass shields, more plants as space dividers and a host of other devices to keep us relatively safe. Offices will have less capacity but more flex time. More will be in 1-4 story buildings as 50 story high rises present elevator logistics issues. There may well be office ‘pods’ so that the same but small groups of people are in meetings, reducing risk and barriers to the spread of the virus. Temperature scans in the foyer may be more common than a receptionist. Will there even be a receptionist? No. Why would there be?
Will all of these be the new reality? That remains to be seen. The future is never quite as we imagine but always brings the unexpected, both good and bad.
During the interim, stay safe, the future is closer than we think.