Is The Remote Work Revolution Here To Stay?

Is The Remote Work Revolution Here To Stay?

“We got in early, we left late,” the Bay Area native said of the Silicon Valley office grind.

Phillip Parent, an IT professional, used to get irritated by coworkers who worked from home. Why should they be treated differently, he reasoned?

Highlights

  • After more than a year-and-a-half at home, and major life changes and milestones — switching jobs, starting a family, working on the couch in pajamas with his daughter — he’s changed his mind about where he works. He loves the choice of working from the office or home.

  • When COVID-19 hit, offices were forced to close, and Parent was forced to manage IT support work from his San Mateo apartment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized work in a way few expected. Office workers have shunned offices, and once-vital career building in Bay Area tech HQs has given way to a new demand: We don’t want to go back to the way it was.

Parent, 34, and his wife even started to discuss leaving the Bay Area while holding on to their Silicon Valley careers. What once seemed impossible, he said, might now be possible: “It’s kind of opened the door.”

Liberation from vexing commutes and tight cubicles are freedoms Silicon Valley workers are extremely reluctant to give up: 70% of those able to work from home now want to stay out of the office most, if not all, of the time once the pandemic is over, according to a recent poll by the Bay Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Just 2% said they never want to work remotely.

The old and rigid corporate way of conducting business face-to-face has been disrupted, but how much and for how long remains uncertain, said Santa Clara University business professor Jo-Ellen Pozner. Bay Area companies have been constantly adjusting pandemic work rules and pay structures for remote employees, she said.

“It’s still shaking out,” said Pozner, an assistant professor of management. “It will take a little while to get reoriented.” But the shift to telecommuting has been seismic: nationally, just 1 in 5 remote workers told the Pew Research Center they worked from home before the health crisis. By last October, nearly 38% could do their jobs remotely and a little more than half wanted to continue that after the pandemic ends, Pew found.

Bay Area workers are even more likely to be able to work remotely with 48% saying their jobs can be done from home. And among tech workers, 72 percent said their jobs could be done remotely, the Bay Area News Group poll found. Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said the reluctance to give up remote work is “a really major finding.”

Hancock said the pandemic has made people shift priorities, focusing more on family and community and not exclusively on career. “Everybody made their own discovery,” he said. But many haven’t been able to embrace the new flexibility. Employees tied to job sites — service workers, health care providers, laborers — often had to choose between accepting health risks or losing wages.

The most dramatic split between the Bay Area’s remote and nonremote workers occurs in education and wages: 6 in 10 remote employees have at least a college degree and are far more likely to take home higher wages while 8 in 10 of those earning less than $50,000 cannot work remotely, according to the survey. Many nontech employees feel they have little choice in work decisions.

“Now the people in privileged positions,” Pozner said, “are putting themselves in a more privileged position.” The pandemic exacerbated the Bay Area’s broad divide between haves and have-nots, Pozner said. Many remote workers have moved to low-cost regions, while other lower-paid employees remain mired in regular Bay Area commutes, high rents and living expenses.