The Long Goodbye

During the Covid-19 pandemic Working From Home (WFH) has become almost obligatory and initially perceived as a necessary evil in an attempt to keep things moving in the business environment. WFH was often an option for half a day or possibly a day so as to get something done to a deadline etc. Therein lay the insight of the employee that WFH was more efficient and the place to get things done. Employers have in general been suspicious, or jealous and required that work be done in the office despite the advancement in technology allowing phones to be diverted, emails received anywhere etc. How things have changed! Much of the workforce are now working well from home and companies are looking at their city centre office leases with a view to giving these up or not renewing. This despite a study Bloom did back in 2013 somewhat forecast this trend: in his experiment Bloom worked with a Chinese Travel Company to study remote-work productivity. Somewhat to Bloom’s surprise, the company’s staff became notably more productive by WFH four days a week. The experiment divided up the workforce into two groups Home and Office and found that WFH employees were 13% more productive of which around 4% of it came from workers being able to cram in more tasks per minute due to fewer distractions and the remaining 9% was attributed to workers actually working more minutes per shift. Bloom says this was because commutes were eliminated entirely, lunch breaks were shorter and fewer workers took sick days.

After the nine-month-long experiment the group were re-interviewed. Some of course found it harder at home and reported feelings of isolation etc. and returned to office working. However half continued WFH and became even more efficient with their productivity increasing by over 20%! Essentially if WFH works for you, it works for the employer too.

However to be included in the WFH group employees had to meet three requirements: have no kids, have a room that wasn’t their bedroom and have quality broadband internet on equipment the firm installed for them at home. For parents of young children WFH may be far from ideal as it’s harder to be productive when you’re in a less-than-ideal living situation. Remember this study required that the employee had a room to work in that wasn’t their bedroom. For many people, that is simply not the case, however how many of us keep the kids bedroom despite the fact they’ve essentially flown the nest? These underutilised rooms can become WFH offices with the minimum of effort even if there is bed in the corner! (Essential for those ‘Power Naps’ we know are SO necessary!!)

To the surprise of many, some of us older workers are finding WFH appealing enough to delay retirement. No more commuting to work. More time at the house with the family and never setting foot on a plane for an exhausting business trip and overnight hotel stays etc. One of the stranger twists of the Covid-19 pandemic is that a small but surprising number of older executives have discovered they’re arguably so much better off WFH that this alone is enough to put off retiring as this can keep them energized, working hard, and dealing better with the work stress.

These ‘long goodbyes’ have caught some HR departments off guard and present a sharp contrast to older workers who, after being laid off, were forced into early retirement. These delays could also potentially put a hold on many firms’ top leadership succession plans, as experts say it’s generally very high level executives who aren’t leaving. Some top executives have discovered remote work creates a balanced life that makes retiring less appealing and don’t see the balance changing anytime soon. Despite efforts to get staff back to the office, only a quarter of workers are back so far and they may well be asking themselves., “If I’m still showing value and getting a good salary, why not stay on?”

However at the opposite end of the spectrum are the over 50’s claiming universal credit, which was more than double the figure last year. The over-50s were more likely to be made redundant and find themselves at the back of a very long queue for work opportunities or worse still being forced into an early retirement they cannot afford.

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