Back in early March, which now seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote that there may be at least one positive unintended consequence of COVID-19—companies may start permitting large numbers of their employees to work from home.
During this time, JPMorgan, Amazon, Twitter, Google and other corporations experimented with having their employees work from home. JPMorgan initially looked at this as a trial experiment and named the program “Project Kennedy.” This called for 10% of the company’s 250,000-plus employees to work from home. The storied investment bank’s goal was to disperse employees in an effort to alleviate the chance of catching or spreading the virus. Project Kennedy also served as a test run for the efficacy of having a mass work-from-home program.
Months later, the verdict is in—the adoption of working from home has proven to be successful. The ascension of Zoom online videos, Slack, Google Hangouts and other technologies connecting people working from home with their colleagues and bosses has appeared to work out relatively smoothly.
It’s been especially lauded as schools—ranging from elementary to college—closed their doors and rendered children and young adults homebound. It became clear that being at home was deemed essential; otherwise, young children would be left unattended or forced to be placed in the care of others who could possibly carry the virus.
People were relieved that they didn’t have to endure long, tedious and stressful commutes. They found themselves working more efficiently without the incessant unnecessary meetings and gossipy and annoyingly intrusive time-sucking co-workers. For those who have sick or COVID-19-impacted family members, the time spent at home was a godsend, which enabled them to look after the people who needed care and attention.
Last week, JPMorgan co-president Daniel Pinto said that staff could work from home on a rotational basis more permanently, in line with the bank’s future vision of work. In addition to the aforementioned positive reasons for working from home, corporate executives recognize the potential savings they’d realize by not needing to house all of their people in highly-expensive skyscrapers in overcrowded cities. They recognize that corporations can do their part in helping improve the environment by cutting down the time spent by their workers driving or taking buses into work, while simultaneously affording their employees a better quality and balance of work and life.
According to SHRM, the world’s largest professional society dedicated to serving human resources professionals, a large number of companies will be extending their work-from-home programs too. The companies include Facebook, Capital One, Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow and others.
There’s also a big dose of self-interest on the part of companies having employees work from home. The new rules being proposed for substantially changing the office to accommodate social distancing and keeping employees safe will be arduous to put into place. Management will have to figure out everything from how many people can ride in an elevator (do elevators have to be retrofitted for voice controls instead of pushing buttons?), taking the temperatures of employees and deciding the number of workers who can be together at one time, along with a host of other matters.
There are other sticky legal issues. If workers return to work enmasse and someone catches the virus, the corporations and its executives will be subjected to lawsuits, as there will likely be claims made against the company for failing to provide a safe work environment.
Everything points to it being easier for companies to maintain the trend of working from home. The companies could also permit those who prefer to work at the office to come in. With fewer people in the building, it will be easier for companies to make the required adjustments and keep everyone safe.