As the coronavirus epidemic rages on in the U.S., offices are about as empty as their water coolers on a Friday afternoon. For more than half a year now, millions of people who have managed to hold onto their jobs have retreated to their homes, where they’ve turned their kitchen tables into makeshift desks.
As unpredictable, stressful and uncharted as 2020 has been, working from home has been a surprisingly welcome relief for those fortunate enough to remain employed and fortunate enough to do their jobs remotely.
Gone is the harried commute, while traditional office attire has been exchanged for sweatpants. That pile of dishes in the sink you never get around to washing? It’s been wiped out during a short break away from the computer before hopping onto a Zoom call. People suddenly have time in their day.
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“I save 90 minutes a day, or almost five hours a week,” Austin, Texas-based civil engineer Mike Greenberg, 42, who has been working from home since the end of February, told TODAY in an email about his commute.
“If you consider that a 'self-care' routine takes an hour (exercise, healthy breakfast, journaling, et cetera) that means replacing an hour in traffic with an hour looking after yourself. The time to incorporate these things has been incredible for me.”
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Sarah Kennedy, 34, is a married mother of two boys, 8 and 13, who works as a paralegal in Des Moines, Iowa. Working from home, as she has done since mid-March, has given her a chance to stay connected with her own family.
“During the summer, it was great to be home with the kids. I got to enjoy extra flexibility,” she said. “We got to play out in the yard when I wasn’t on phone calls or working on spreadsheets. So, we got to experience a lot together over the summer, which was welcome.”
Finding the upside of working from home isn’t that much of a surprise.
“There are some benefits, particularly in terms of controlling your own time,” Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and author of the book “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” told TODAY.
“And people, yes, develop habits around these things, so that the new behavior starts to seem like they’re the norm and it’s hard to change back. Once people form habits, they tend to stick with them and it’s something that becomes familiar, something that seems right and normal. That makes it hard to change.”
Kennedy and Greenberg both say they hope to continue working from home at least a few days a week. Wood says that blend of being home and in the office may become the norm.
“My guess is we’re going to see hybrid models of work,” said Wood.
“We’ve learned that we can be productive working at home,” she added.
There may be something to the idea of remaining home, too. A June survey of 1,000 professionals by global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry found that 20% were most looking forward to “nothing” when they get back to the office.
A New York Times-Morning Consult survey of more than 1,100 people who’ve worked at home over the last several months found that 86% are happy with working away from the office.
Only 13% of managers and 11% of employees welcome going back to their offices on a full-time basis, according to a survey of 3,500 people by Azurite Consulting. That same study found that 60% of employees believe digital tools have helped them become more effective in their work.
“Working from home has allowed me to kind of step further into my role. It’s kind of given me a little bit more confidence because I can speak to different business leaders as if they were in front of me without them being in front of me,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s two children have returned to school five days a week, leaving her home alone during the workday — a situation millions of working parents with kids learning remotely don’t have.
“Now that they’re in school, I get to enjoy an empty house and quiet to focus on some projects,” Kennedy said.
“When we’re in a particular context, like working from home, you get up in the morning, you do certain things, our behavior is much more controlled by the environments that we’re in than we realize, so we develop these patterns that start to seem familiar,” Wood said.
While it may be easy to assume working from home means slacking off, Greenberg says he makes sure to keep his focus on his job.
“My team and I are big on setting weekly goals and sticking to them,” wrote Rosenberg, who has been working from home since the end of February.
“As long as the work's being done, working from home allows us a little more freedom. Suddenly we save more time by putting on laundry or doing a bit of admin between meetings. This isn't something we need to hide — we're all open with doing little errands — and we all work hard to keep that as the status quo.”
“I’m definitely grateful for it,” Kennedy said about working from home. “I know that I have friends who don’t have that option, who have to go back into the office and how much stress and anxiety they have about the virus.
"I kind of have to pull back these stories of how great it’s been in my home by myself and the quiet, just because I know that not everyone gets that luxury. But, yeah, I do feel spoiled.”
While every company will exercise its own decision on when to summon employees back to the office, Wood says it’s important to remember that getting into the swing of things again isn’t that hard.
“If you’ve done it before, you’re going to find that you get back into that old pattern pretty easily,” Wood said.