Bennetts & Company

What if Work From Home becomes Permanent?

Today is our anniversary and we’re supposed to be on St. John in the Virgin Islands. That trip was cancelled but we hope to make it back there sometime soon. In the meantime, I’m thinking about how and when we make that happen and what the future holds for vacations and, more importantly, for work.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the workforce is dividing itself into very distinctive groups:

  1. Essential workers – The front line heroes! Those treating patients in hospitals, first responders, grocery delivery people for services like Instacart and Doordash, transportation workers, food producers, government workers, pharmacy workers. I don’t think these jobs will ever go away, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see major changes to benefits and compensation for these workers. It’s become clear how essential they truly are.
  2. Those that are furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic. In my circle of friends, these people are in sales, construction, hospitality and the service industry. I also have a lot of friends who work for themselves as independent contractors or “creatives”. While they aren’t necessarily laid off, they also aren’t working right now. I’m very curious to see what the future of these roles will be. Depending on what happens with treatment and prevention of Covid-19, these jobs could go away completely. People may no longer want to work in these fields at all.
  3. Work From Home – Brian and I are very fortunate to fall into this category. My new job was already a full-time remote position. Brian had the flexibility to work from home at his own discretion but for the most part went to the office every day. Amazon was a leader in the Seattle area in sending it’s employees to work from home almost immediately so he is now in this bucket with me. I have a feeling that the flood gates have opened and more and more of the workforce is going to become a permanent part of this category.

I read today that 30% of the workforce has shifted to working from home in response to the pandemic. I think some (maybe a lot) of those employees will stay remote. While there are jobs that are easier to do from an office, either due to the need for facilities and equipment, or better ability to collaborate with others, a lot of jobs don’t require a traditional office setting. Companies are going to have a much harder time selling employees and prospective employees on the idea that they need to come to an office to do their job, in light of the fact that it could mean risking their lives. I can tell you that I am not going to go sit in a building in a cubicle four feet from another worker because an employer thinks I will be more focused while working on my spreadsheet. Nope. Not going to happen.

So if my prediction is correct and we’re fortunate enough to be in that bucket of newly-freed-from-the-confines-of-a-cubicle employees, what can we change about the way we live our lives?

For us, I think a lot. We moved to Seattle from Indianapolis specifically so Brian could go into the Amazon office every day. We rented a crazy expensive apartment in downtown Seattle so his walk to work was only 7 minutes. If this pandemic continues and Amazon continues to support work from home for their employees, will we stay in Seattle? Don’t get me wrong, we love it. It’s an absolutely amazing city. Our goal is to return to our life in Seattle. But if it isn’t safe, I don’t want to be there.

Our apartment is great for the lifestyle we had when we chose it, but it isn’t perfect for two work from home professionals with two dogs. We will have to figure out working space for two people. The apartment is pretty small and we only have one small den which is currently packed to the gills being used by day as my office and by night as Brian’s music room. We don’t have a dining room or kitchen table and we don’t have room for one unless we get rid of the couch, so one person is going to have to work from the couch or from bed. We will also have to continue sharing elevators and going through lobbies and using public spaces to take our dogs out.

To rent an apartment with more space in our building or even our neighborhood, that allows multiple pets, will be astronomically expensive. We are already paying thousands of dollars a month in rent. With economic stability in question, I am not inclined to increase our monthly obligations in order to stay close to a downtown Seattle office building that we no longer need access to.

So what’s next?

Short term, we stay at our bug-out pandemic haven on the coast. It’s thousands of extra dollars a month but so far we are both still employed and are off-setting at least part of the cost by not eating out, not buying stuff, and basically not going anywhere or doing anything. Washington hasn’t given dates of when they think things will start to open, but I don’t think Brian will need to return to his office anytime soon, even if the state starts to loosen restrictions. We have rented this place through the end of May and could rent it for longer if we felt that was the safest option for our family.

Sometime in the next few months, we will return to our apartment in the city and finish out our lease. It goes through October, which is when flu season starts and we are hearing predictions that a second wave of the pandemic could occur. I certainly don’t think that a vaccine will exist by then, but it’s possible that a drug that helps treat the symptoms of Covid-19 could be identified. If that isn’t the case and we have another wave of lockdowns, it will be interesting figuring out where to move.

Realistically, why can’t we just go anywhere? Both of our employers are global organizations.

If you could live absolutely anywhere and work from home, where would you go? What is required for you to successfully work from home? Good internet connection? Health care? Easy access to transportation?

I’m ready to start lobbying for a move to St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands!

 

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