COVID and the Work from Home ‘Revolution’: Part One

By Lauren Rosales, Content Writer

The COVID pandemic isn’t over, but we have reached a point where we can look back at its onset and initial peak to evaluate its immediate impact on various aspects of life. It’s less facile to consider the long-term impact–we cannot be sure what is “the new normal” and what is still in a state of flux. In a trilogy of blog posts under the umbrella subjects of COVID and homeownership, we’ll examine three relevant sub-topics. Though we may be unable to state with absolute certainty whether some pandemic trends are here to stay, we can nevertheless reflect on what they are and where they’ve taken us thus far.

It’s unlikely that anyone in either school or the workforce will ever forget the abrupt shutdowns of March, 2020. Schools and offices closed; bars, restaurants, and retail shops all locked their doors. Many were faced with a new necessity: working from home. In May 2020, 71.7% of those who could work from home, did. Unsurprisingly, the sudden shift led to an increased difficulty maintaining a work-life balance; parents had to juggle working from home and childcare; those who live alone found themselves feeling isolated and even lonely. In other words, the socio-psychological impact was swift and severe.

Though overwork–or, more colloquially, “the grind”–has long been romanticized, workaholism can have devastating effects, particularly on one’s mental health. A healthy work-life balance is also linked to better management quality, increased productivity, and higher rates of job satisfaction. But when you go to work in the same space where you relax–or, depending on the size and nature of your living space, even sleep!--the boundary between the private and the professional inevitably blurs. You might start to feel like you’re simply always working. Significantly, this denies your brain the opportunity to detach from the work mindset and wind down, or recover, from the stresses of the workplace. On the flip side, of course, some find it difficult to focus on work at home, and so while they seem to spend more hours working, they are actually getting less done.

Ultimately, there has not been one single mass experience of working from home during the pandemic. And it bears acknowledging that not everybody was able to work from home during peak COVID–fewer than 30% of workers, in fact. While some embraced sourdough starters and Animal Crossing, others lost family members or are still suffering long-term effectsfrom the disease itself. Some have been itching to return to the office, yet others have enjoyed a respite from toxic office culture. Experts don’t seem to agree whether working from home is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’--ostensibly, because every individual’s experience is so different. Whether a single person is more productive at home or in an office depends entirely on their own work proclivities and a myriad of outside factors. That said, one thing that multiple studies do show is that workers do tend to operate most optimally when they have some level of autonomy. In other words, workers prefer to have the freedom of choice–at least to some degree. The burgeoning hybrid work culture seems to best suit this penchant.

While so much of the dialogue surrounding the work from home revolution has focused on what the experience is like for the employee and the employer, studies are increasingly examining how it affects the bigger picture. For example, how would urban areas change if a majority of companies continued to allow their employees to work from home? With the commute made obsolete, those workers would likely feel freer to move to the city’s periphery where they can obtain more square footage; resultantly, real estate prices in the core of the city would drop, and those who do continue to drive into work would benefit from less traffic and therefore decreased time on the road.

Meanwhile, as more people work from home in exurban areas, the demand will increase for service workers at coffee shops, lunch spots, and retail in those localities. Local businesses will thrive, as walkable neighborhood shopping districts become more appealing to those who spend increased time in their community. Downtown commercial real estate, however, could suffer. With so many companies maintaining hybrid work schedules, there are fewer people in downtown areas on weekdays; this means that there are fewer people frequenting the restaurants and shops.

If you are wondering about the effects that the work from home revolution has had on actual homes, stay tuned for Part Two! The conclusion will discuss home office renovations, and make suggestions on how best to optimize your own personal work from home experience.

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