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The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically

“For the first time ever, the world’s largest companies are telling hundreds of thousands of workers to stay away from the office for a full year, or longer,” notes the Atlantic.

“If, in five years, these edicts have no lingering effects on office culture, that would be awfully strange…”

Ambitious engineers, media makers, marketers, PR people, and others may be more inclined to strike out on their own, in part because they will, at some point, look around at their living room and realize: I am alone, and I might as well monetize the fact of my independence. A new era of entrepreneurship may be born in America, supercharged by a dash of social-existential angst.

Or, you know, maybe not. If companies find that remote work is a mess, they might decide to prematurely scrap the experiment, like IBM and Yahoo famously did. It is certainly curious that the most prestigious tech companies now proclaiming the future of working from home were, just seven months ago, outfitting their offices with the finest sushi bars, yoga rooms, and massage rooms…

Nothing is certain, and every new trend incurs a backlash. Telepresence could crush some downtown businesses; but cheaper downtown real estate could also lead to a resurgence in interesting new restaurants. Working from home could lead to more free-agent entrepreneurship; but if companies notice that they’re bleeding talent, they’ll haul their workforces back to headquarters. Still, even a moderate increase in remote work could lead to fundamental changes in our labor force, economy, and politics. Remote workers will spend more money and time inside their houses; they will spend more time with online communities than with colleagues; and many will distribute themselves across the country, rather than feel it necessary to cluster near semi-optional headquarters.

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