Remote work may be the 'new normal', but not everyone hit a jackpot

There might not be a clear answer as to whether remote work is 'better' than its alternative, but there sure are clearly defined "winners" and "losers" of the work-from-home revolution.
Remote work being the norm in this day and age, much has been discussed how the "new normal" of work-from-home affects productivity and output.(File Photo / Representational Image)
Remote work being the norm in this day and age, much has been discussed how the "new normal" of work-from-home affects productivity and output.(File Photo / Representational Image)
Published on Jun 19, 2021 02:52 PM IST
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By | Written by Joydeep Bose | Edited by Avik Roy

The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has left, for better or worse, everlasting impacts on society and our lives. However, perhaps what has most been impacted in this past year and a half is how offices and workplaces function, and maybe a bit about the nature of work itself. With remote work being the norm in this day and age, much has been discussed how the "new normal" of work-from-home affects productivity and output. Now, two separate groups of economists have independently led surveys and published papers on the same. But their findings offer very different impressions of remote work.

Also Read: Facebook offers permanent work-from-home for employees even as offices reopen

According to a report by The Atlantic, the papers published by the two teams of economists on the impact of remote work present no clear answer as to whether remote work is better than its in-office alternative. The first team looked at an unnamed Asian tech company that went completely remote during the pandemic. It did not meet expected levels of growth; instead, productivity took a plunge, uninterrupted work time went down, and mentorship evaporated. "Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong," the article mentioned.

On the other hand, the second team carried out a survey in the United States on 30,000 people over the past few months and found out, much to the contrary, that people were "overwhelmingly satisfied" with their work-from-home experience. The paper's authors even predicted that the practice of remote work will continue even after the pandemic ends, noting that "productivity would surge in the post-pandemic economy, due to re-optimised working arrangements".

So why do the two surveys differ so much in their conclusions? Does that mean one of them is wrong? There might not be a clear answer as to whether remote work is 'better' than its alternative, but the report offers up some interesting conjectures.

According to the report, there are clearly defined "winners" and "losers" of the work-from-home revolution. The losers are, not unexpectedly, people who are just bad at using online tools to communicate, but also other groups -- such as entry-level workers in less established positions and downtown landlords and businesses. The winners, then, are work introverts who excel at remote work, as well as high-income workers at highly profitable companies.

It is no surprise that highly profitable companies are considering a permanent switch to remote work. It was reported that Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook are mulling a hybrid working week, with a certain section of their employees on permanent work-from-home. Who benefits from this initiative? The answer is not so difficult to arrive at. White-collar workers, more specifically high-income men in their 30s and 40s, have been more pleased than any other group to work from home. "The most likely immediate winners of the remote-work revolution, then, are those who, in an economic sense, are already winning," the report mentions.

On the other end of the spectrum, then, are entry-level workers, new hires, and young people who lack a better sense of the work environment. The report mentions that the work-from-home "revolution", as it is being called, also disproportionately favours the college-educated class as people with a graduate degree are more likely to have a better experience working remotely compared to people with a high-school degree. "The remote-work revolution, therefore, is principally a revolution for the colleged class," the report mentioned.

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