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The Future of Work Still Very Much a Work in Progress


The coronavirus pandemic transformed the way many people perform their jobs, creating opportunities for working from home or away from the office that simply didn't exist previously. But while the pandemic may have accelerated the push toward a decentralized, digital workforce, it has also created havoc and upended corporate norms that have been in place for decades.

Employers and workers are now experiencing the fallout from this phenomenon, as the future of work has arrived earlier than expected. While some businesses are eager to get workers back in the office, many employees are unwilling to sacrifice the freedom and flexibility they have experienced over the past 18 months.

Many companies that may have previously thought "working from home" was code for slacking off have changed their attitudes as a result of COVID-19. A study from September of 2020 by Mercer indicates that 94 percent of employers felt productivity was as high or even higher with employees working from home as it was when they were present in an office.

Businesses also began to question the need to maintain offices in pricey urban areas with their high operating expenditures for energy and equipment costs. The benefits for workers were straightforward, as employees slashed long commute times to zero and enjoyed the freedom of more flexible schedules for juggling childcare, appointments and other quality of life issues.

At the same time, working from home blurs the line between personal and professional time, with some employees struggling to separate the two. And employers have not reached a consensus about how to assimilate remote work into their corporate cultures.

“It’s all over the place,” said Ed Egee, who handles workforce development for the National Retail Federation. "Remote work is definitely going to change the workplace. But I don’t think I know, and I don’t think [employers] know, exactly how yet."

An additional complicating factor is the huge number of job vacancies in the U.S. currently, a phenomenon that has driven up salary requirements and other perks for many skilled workers, including the desire to work remotely full time or at least part time.

According to data provided to POLITICO from online job search firm Indeed, more than twice as many job postings mentioned remote work in June than was the case before Covid. Unsurprisingly, the technology sector is most likely to mention remote work in job postings, but the phenomenon is also occurring in a variety of other industries where it was previously not the norm, like education, finance and law.

The future of work is very much unclear as industries navigate a new working culture moving out of a pandemic era. What is certain is that remote and hybrid work models are here to stay, driven by advances in technology, demands from a breed of newly empowered workers and the benefits from cost savings and productivity increases that employers are enjoying.

Edited by Luke Bellos
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