Back in the late 80s, I worked for a company which had its production department in the south-east, but regional sales reps all over the country. The sales reps all worked from home (as did their equivalents at the company’s competitors), with the exception of the one in the south-east, who had to drive into the office every day, even though he was doing the same job as his sales colleagues elsewhere in the country.
Why? Because it was possible for him to travel to the office, so he was forced to. Had it been possible for his further-flung colleagues to drive to the office too, they surely would have been made to as well.
At the time, it was frequently predicted that by the turn of the century, all jobs that could be done from home, would be – thanks to unspecified upcoming technological developments. This of course never happened, because it wasn’t technology holding this move back: the existence of the regional sales reps proved that wasn’t the case. The cynical might say that was the desire for management to keep an eye on as many staff as possible.
Last year changed all that for many organisations. While there’s been a lot of pressure over the course of 2021 to ‘get staff back to the office’, a lot of companies have come to terms with the pointlessness of all that in many cases. For all the employees who remain working from home, many more I suspect would welcome the chance to return to that way of working.
A more enduring impact from last year may be more fundamental, however. If you’re working from home, you can theoretically work for anyone, anywhere. I think we will see a move to more freelance talent in many job roles, such as accounting, sales and marketing. I suspect many businesses may reassess their ability to farm out activities to independent contractors. We may see more people doing a niche job for a number of companies, rather than doing a broader job for just one. The ‘Marketing Department’ sign could become a thing of the past at many company offices.