Traditional workplaces will become the exception
Here is a part of a headline from Business Insider (India version). The article start with Canva says employees will only need to come to the office 8 times a year.
This is a topic that I discussed with an investing friend of mine. We have covered this for a while, with him being a bit behind me in the belief. He still is trying to grasp how big a move this is and if it is permanent or temporary.
To me, this is a done deal. There is now way the "old normal" is going to return. Anything that can be done remotely is going to be offered. Companies are going to start with flex schedules but will be forced to eventually embrace remote work completely.
The reason I am so confident about this is that it is in keeping with the overall technological progression that we are witnessing.
Technology is the great disruptor. While the lockdowns were the stimulant that set the ball in motion, the reality is that the technology was available for a number of years. Upgrades to our communication network, better ECMs, video conferencing, and overall network capabilities meant that it was a shift that was just waiting to happen.
Of course, the response to COVID-19 was just what the business world needed.
In keeping with ongoing technological trends, often the hardest part about technological disruptors is to get people to use them. Most humans are creatures of habit. This means that we do what we are comfortable with. Change is not something that most embrace.
This works in reverse also. Once people get accustomed to something, they do not revert back. We see this in the online shopping rates. During the lockdowns, they skyrocketed. While the overall percentage dropped a bit, they are still above where they were before the pandemic. Many people starting buying stuff online which they never did before. This caused them to adapt their behavior, permanently.
People Embrace Benefits
The reality is people embrace what benefits them. A technology is accepted if it provides something of value to the individual. If not, outside the most techy of people, it is discarded.
Remote work, for most, was of great benefit. According to the Business Insider article, Canva found this out:
It said internal surveys showing 81% of its employees wanted to continue working flexibly after current lockdowns were relaxed.
In other words, the majority of people realized they gained a lot working from home. Whether it was being there when a child got home from school or the ability to attend an activity, people embraced it. Perhaps it was the fact that they did not have to get up 1.5-2 hours earlier to get ready for work and then to sit in traffic on the morning and afternoon commute.
Whatever the reason, the response was clear within this company workforce. It is safe to guess the numbers are going to be tilted in the same direction at most companies.
It seems like a favorite pastime of people is to fight technology. What is interesting is that some of the largest technology companies in the world are driving the push to bring workers back to the office. They backed off a little with the recent cases increase of the Delta variant but the message is still there. They want to return to the old normal.
The challenge is that employees do not. They like how things are and realize that life is better without some busy-body middle manager looking over their shoulder all day long. Companies found that productivity went up as evidenced by many of the corporate earnings.
We see this story repeated all the time. Those that fight technology get run over by it. Trying to dam it up is akin to doing that to a mighty river like the Mississippi. It might work for a while but eventually it will burst.
When technology "bursts", it obliterates whatever is in the way. This, too, is something we saw quite often.
It is because of technology that I am certain the workers will win this one. When companies are already starting to work on new tools that can assist these workers in their jobs, we know things are about to radically change.
This is going to have some long tentacles. In the United States, it is estimated that companies that serve employees while at work is into the trillions. Think about all those firms that provide services to employees relating to their time at work. This includes copy machine companies, dry cleaners, eating establishments, shoe shiners, custodial services, water coolers, and office supply houses.
All of these are about to take a hit along with, naturally, commercial real estate.
Then we have the tax situation. If many of these products and services are not purchased, there is no sale tax to collect. The individuals at those firms will see either a reduction in pay or, even, layoffs. This will affect the income tax base.
All of this will be the norm in another 5 years.
The headline is right: Traditional workplaces will become the exception.
There will be little need to physically be in the same office especially once Virtual Reality becomes a more established technology. Once that happens, any office environment can be replicated in the virtual world.
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