The Future Of Work May Be At Home

Apr 27, 2020

A commuter walks through a normally busy Union Square subway station in New York City during the COVID-19 crisis on Monday, March 23, 2020
Credit Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

The coronavirus pandemic could have lasting effects on how people work.

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo. He says having people work remotely from home has advantages for employees and employers.

"It saves on transportation costs. It allows people more flexibility in balancing their work versus their home life. If this is a permanent thing, it would allow employers to save some money. Maybe the office wouldn't have to be quite as big, so it would save some money on office expenses."

But Bartik says there a some roadblocks in the way of more telecommuting. One of them is a lack of Internet access for people who are low-income or live in rural areas.

"So, I think we'll have to have some transformational thinking about this. We may start thinking about broadband access at a high speed as really being almost kind of a public utility that try to provide."

Bartik admits that could be controversial, especially if local governments move into markets where there are already private ISPs. But he also says major investments will be needed to expand the number of people who can work remotely.

Bartik says whether or not telecommuting is a good deal for workers depends on the overall economy.

"Maybe in the future if we're doing remote work an employer might pay for the broadband connection. Alternatively the employer might pay employees a little more. So, it depends to some extent on whether or not we keep the labor market in a healthy situation where workers have a good bargaining position viz-a-viz employers."

Although the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward remote work, Bartik says working from home won't completely replace the office.

"A lot of work productivity is based on human interaction, so whether or not home work can be productive depends to some extent on whether or not people can find ways to collaborate online."