Is Working from Home the New Normal?

Patrick Fitzgerald  |  02-24-2021
Is Working from Home the New Normal?

You wake up to your alarm clock blowing your eardrum out and come to the harsh realization that it’s Monday morning. It’s time to get out of bed and go prepare yourself for another day of work. Then it hits you: You don’t have to leave your house. Your office is only 10 steps away. 

So you pour some coffee and slip into a comfy pair of pants; if you even bother changing out of your pajamas at all. This is the workforce of today but it still feels somewhat alien to us. Leaving the comfort of your home for the office has been the norm for as long as we can remember.

History of Working from Home

Before the emergence of the internet in its modern form, those that worked from home were most likely sole proprietors in some sense. Successful historical figures like Da Vinci, Galileo, and Copernicus did most of their work from home. The term ‘Renaissance Man’ refers to a person who is skilled in many areas. The staple of this time period were those who could do it all, especially when it came to the arts.  

As time went on, school children were groomed to not only manage their time correctly but develop their teamwork and critical thinking skills. This translates directly into most work environments. The Industrial Revolution was right around the corner and with that, it brought an even more concentrated focus on supervised work environments. 

It was still commonplace to see people take advantage of their homes as street-facing shops. It turned out to be a great side hustle (long before the phrase ‘side hustle’ was coined.), Many of these people still worked in factories but sold goods out of their home for extra profit. 

The industrial age birthed a brand new movement of skilled workers and set up a “working-outside-the-home model” that many employers still follow today.  It became easier for a larger segment of the population to work year-round since the labor was not tied to the seasons and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. (Thanks Edison, you son of a…)

Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to work in urban factories and it’s estimated that the annual hours of work increased during the 19th century by around 10%. 

These poor workers were often housed in cramped and grossly inadequate rooms. Working conditions were extremely difficult and exposed employees to many risks and dangers. Including but certainly not limited to: cramped work areas with poor ventilation, trauma from machinery, toxic exposures to heavy metals and dust, and I mean lots of dust

When the US government started to track work hours in the 1890’s, they were shocked to find the average employee working close to 100 hours per week. Various labor unions were already trying to get the government to pass a law that would mandate a work day of eight hours. 

This work model really didn’t go mainstream till Henry Ford started implementing it heavily in the 1920s. But contrary to popular belief, he didn’t implement these changes with his employees health in mind. In a 1926 interview in the magazine, World’s Work, Ford said: “Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.” So his thought process was that if you give people more time off, the more time they have to consume and purchase goods and services. 

The Modern Office and the 9 to 5 Work Week

Workers today are still accustomed to the same eight hour shifts because it’s the norm; but how truly effective is it? The nine to five model gave birth to inflexible schedules and employer-provided spaces and tools; a swift change from labor during the Renaissance and before. Despite this, many people still found opportunities to work from home, specifically women who did work in the garment industry. 

It’s during the first half of the 20th century that we really see the modern office take shape due to the growth of technology. Emerging research into employee motivation also began to reveal improved morale actually leads to increased productivity. Who woulda thought?

Many of the precursors to the office tools we use today like typewriters and telephones, were invented during this time. Along with affordable public transportation and private vehicles, going into the office or factory was easier than ever before. 

Since the rise of the Digital Revolution, we’ve seen staggering growth in efficiency and yet US workers still work 4 more weeks per year on average than they did in 1979.

According to a recent study, four out of five employees feel that their work environments hinder their productivity. Seeing the same people everyday can get stressful and if you’re not careful; toxic. What we’re seeing take place now is a worldwide shift in ideology; that what it means to be employed doesn’t necessarily translate to being physically present within the workforce. The sheer connecting power of our modern tools, and a modern internet, means being digitally present is far more feasible than it was even a decade ago.

Welcome to the Future: Sweet, Sweet Freedom!

It used to be that office equipment and tools provided by employers were expensive, hardly portable in most cases and not justifiable to have in the home. The most powerful computers of the early 20th century could fill an entire room, now 100 times the computing power fits in our pockets. The commonality of advanced tools and equipment in the average home dwarfs what even the most fortunate kings and queens centuries ago could even dream. 

Mini computers that you can carry in your pocket, bluetooth devices and wifi that you can access anywhere in your home, being able to video chat with someone across the world. It’s never been easier to connect with each other from the comfort of our own homes. 

In the 70’s, arguments for and against at-home workers began to rise. At this time the main argument was: If people work at home, how can one tell how well they are doing or whether they are working at all? This was countered by measuring a workers performance by their output; the amount or quality of work done. Rather than their input; the amount of time they spend in the office. This is the foundation of our performance metrics at Clockwork 9. 

If you give people the independence to choose how they spend their time, they will either sink or swim. That has paid dividends in separating those that can be contributing members of the tribe and those that simply want to get a check every two weeks. The main point here is: you have to truly love what you do for this metric to work. Or worse case, have the discipline to get your work done, love it or hate it.

We are now in a world that has shifted massively to online work and online communication. Many experts theorize that the issues tied to the expansion of remote work is less a lack of access to high speed internet and more of an organizational change issue. As many companies are forced to work from home due to the ongoing pandemic, they must adapt and figure out ways to make it all work. Something that has never been done before. 

Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google have since allowed workers to telecommute into 2021. I see no sign of this slowing down given the state of the world. A recent study highlights that up to two-thirds of managers who offer telecommuting flexibility report that employees who work from home are actually more productive overall. And by 2028, it is estimated around 73% of all departments will have remote workers.

As millennials slowly take over America’s workforce, companies are increasingly offering perks that will appeal to them. And flexible working hours is among the top features that millennials look for. 

Many employers are slowly starting to see the light and embrace flexible work hours. A tipping point is coming, and as companies start figuring out the logistics of every single employee working from home, I could see a future where office work is considered almost obsolete. 

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