Remote Work Has Arrived, But It’s Not Quite As Great As We Hoped

We’ve had almost a year of remote work, and the transformation has been amazing. Today, among those who can, 71% of Americans  work from home most of the time, 87% say they have excellent tools, and employees are roughly as engaged as they were before the Pandemic.

But there is a huge gap between rich and poor going on.

In fact, “remote work” is the ultimate new class divide.

Consider this data (from Pew Research, 5,900 workers): 62% of College-Educated workers say they can work from home, only 17% of those without a college degree say the same.

When we look at income levels, the disparity is even greater. 

The New Corner Office Is The Home Office

What does this mean? We have created a whole new “corner office” effect. While many of us can work at home all day, our lower-income team-mates simply cannot.

And younger workers (under the age of 50) are having a much harder time than people my age. Younger workers feel far less motivated, less able to meet and connect with peers, and less productive in general. In fact, as the data shows, younger workers are “half as motivated” than older people.

What does this mean?  Well, remote work is more complicated than we thought.

Remote Work Is Harder Than We Thought

In the first few months of the Pandemic we rushed to buy tools, set up Zoom or Teams, and create all sorts of home office setups for people to adapt. My friends at Target told me they tracked the process of American’s outfitting their home offices by watching buying trends: first wifi routers and laptops; then desks and cameras; then new furniture and household furnishings; now exercise equipment, music systems, and all sorts of wellbeing aids!

Well, this may feel like a good thing, but it has had a dark side. Our operational and service worker friends haven’t been able to gain these benefits. Young people are getting fed up with the “work at home” life. And young parents, mothers, and people with children are actually suffering. 

Consider this: according to the Pew study only 13% of workers believe their work is “better” than before the Pandemic. 23% think it’s “worse.”

When asked about specific aspects of their job, a third say they feel less connected to their co-workers, 26% say it’s harder for them to balance their work and family responsibilities, about one-in-five say they have less job security and fewer opportunities for advancement (19% each), and 16% say it’s harder to know what their supervisor expects of them.

Bottom Line: Learning To Manage Remote Work Takes Time

One of the big findings in the Pew research is that people who have worked at home a long time (writers, designers, researchers) are as happy as ever. For the rest of us, it has been a novelty that’s starting to wear off.

Right now I know most of you are working very hard to put together Employee Experience programs for 2021. I would suggest you look at Remote Work carefully, and think about all these issues. Are you giving young people the connection and advancement they need? Are lower-income workers able to work at home when they want? And are leaders paying attention to all the new issues that have come up?

If you’re interested in my thoughts, here are the principles I’ve developed – I talk about tools, rules, norms, and culture. They all play a role in this new world of remote work.

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