Who invented the culture and where did it come from?
These days every one or a majority of the population in most developed countries are working from home but it wasn’t always the case. Let's look at how the hybrid culture came about and what caused it to start so quickly and how did companies know if the idea would work. Can I work from home was a wish and a dream for a lot of us for a long time in fact probably an eternity unless you were self-employed and run your business from home. The majority of the global workforce belongs to a company that requires you to be in the office. Imagine those days we all have gone through and still probably do where we hated waking up on Monday morning or those lazy grumpy days that you wish didn’t have to travel because you had a late night out or the miserable weather like we get 90% of the time in the United Kingdom. There were some companies that allowed very few people to work from home, you had to be the chosen one and what do I mean by that. I mean you had to be either a director at a very senior level in the company hierarchy structure or you had to be a very skilled individual like a coding or software engineer at a high position to have that privilege.
Here is the shocker, The hybrid culture wasn’t something new but it was an old tried and tested technique at a small scale that was proven to be successful but it was more the infrastructure that was not ready for the companies to really implement or change the culture even the norms of working tradition. Now I bet you are thinking why wasn’t this not available to the general working public or why are you only hearing something new like this now. Well, you need to understand why would a company do such a thing or put more money behind an event or life-changing phase at a time they could not foresee it happening at all ever, especially when companies are investing tons of capital into real estate as well as the service that goes behind keeping things running like clockwork such as the overheads including cleaning and catering and other running costs. So when there is so much invested to provide space and other facilities or amenities to accommodate workers so they can just work and deliver results for companies and look after employee welfare then why spend money on the unnecessary requirements. This is not to say companies don’t keep rainy day funds, of course, they have reserves but at a level to keep the business afloat for short time. You will often hear the word written on the door or in a meeting room labelled as War Room, which is often the meeting that discusses the company's future during the bad and ugly times.
Now let's think about the culture or the reality we lived in at once and will continue to do so but maybe with more flexibility this time. Can you imagine before the pandemic if you went and asked your manager if you can work from home? Well, there isn’t much to strike the mind's imagination of what the response could be, I am not saying that's the response everyone will get, remember as I said only very selected people will get that option in their career. The majority will never have that option but now that has changed so much during the pandemic when companies found ways to allow people to work from home as explained in the first episode of my blog. Now there is still limitation such as the manual labour job market still requires you to be on the premises to carry out your tasks such as cleaning, cooking, security or anything that requires you to be on-premises including some non-manual labour task such as the receptionist. During the Pandemic when companies did implement the infrastructure to allow people to work from home, almost the entire workforce excluding those listed above were able to do so which was extraordinary. Now let's dig deeper into where this culture started and what it has changed so far for us.
The Invention of the Culture
The majority of us today refer to this culture as Work from Home or the abbreviation of WFH. However, you might like to refer to this culture under a different name as it was originally derived from the sector and it used to be called telecommuting or telework and a common practice that used to be applied in the United State sector allowing various employees to work from home. It was a very common practice that grew in number between 1980 till 2010 until the number started to fall as a culture began to take a different direction. In the survey that was conducted and published by the Oxford journal at Stanford University, the majority of people who were allowed to work from home during those periods were either sales assistants, realtors or software engineers. Also, I found very interesting statistics from this research that a survey was conducted over the medium-sized businesses that had anything between (50-5,000) employees in a manufacturing firm during 2012 -2013, and they allowed managers to work from home 1 day a week but this was only practised in The United States, United Kingdom and Germany. That already shows this culture was already growing behind closed doors without anyone noticing. Again according to this study, it was discovered the ability of this percentage to grow and especially amongst three-nation was due to how easily the average person was able to access technology such as laptops and mobile network connectivity.
Now you may be sitting and thinking why did it take so long for this to happen when this culture was already growing so why didn't my company allow me to work from home when it was already been successful pre-covid or even when the study was conducted during 2013. Well, as mentioned in my previous blogs and listed in this research, the concern was around management practice of increasing productivity and profitability, and the other concern was work-life balance. There wasn’t much evidence to support this culture to show it was efficient enough to work across all organizational structures so a company based in China called Ctrip which is the largest travel agency in China with more than 16,000 employees and a company floating on the stock market so you could imagine any performance failure will result in share price dropping that could be vital in a company surviving or going bankrupt hence why there is the strict measure before a company can apply for IPO (Initial Public Offering). This survey was conducted to allow call centre employees to work from home as a means to reduce office rental costs due to the real estate market booming in Shanghai. However, there were concerns such as allowing people to work away from direct supervision.
The experiment run for 9 months where 996 employees across two different departments participated where they would work from home 4 days a week. Now only 503 were qualified to take part in the survey because either a person's journey to work was very long or they don't have the space and ability to work from home than others. Only 249 were actually selected and those with even-numbered birthday dates were selected to work from home while the rest who had odd-numbered birthday dates were to work from the office. Both groups were provided with the same amenities and technology and worked across on the same task so the only difference was their location. Anyways, following this experiment, the group working from home had seen their performance increase by 13% because they were taking more calls during their shift. There was also a reduction in the break, time off, and sick leave taken by the employees. When comparing the WFH Experiment group team performance against the team at the office, well there was no difference with the office team as they were outputting the same volume of work as they were doing pre-experiment. Now here is the shocking result: not only did productivity increase from the team that was working from home but also staff turnover rate fell by 50% compared to the team in the office and employees' morale was a lot higher amongst those working from home. This firm found during the experiment its total factor of productivity across the board was increased by 20% to 30% when applying this culture and also helped the firm to reduce some of its overhead costs.
The Implementation of the Culture:
Now, remember this test was conducted in 2013 and Covid took place in 2019 with everyone really embracing work from home or hybrid culture from 2020. If we take the timeline difference between 2013 and 2019 so much has evolved over those years for countries like the UK, the US and many other developed countries especially in the field of technology. There are more people with smartphone this days ever before than period when people own just a regular cellphone. International trade became easier due to effective communication platforms such as instant chat, email and video calls allowing business transactions to take place more often than before. In conjunction with computing, processor power and barrier to entry into the digital market made it became so easier for new companies to come in and provide tons of services increasing consumer transactions to extraordinary numbers. Great marketing strategies and AI services allowed processes to be tested with accurate data and scenarios that would be 99% right to a real-life event unfolding.
What we are saying in a nutshell between those two date periods is we as human beings have evolved so much and made technology at the forefront of our development it has now allowed us to do things and conduct service like never before even when a life-changing situation comes into play. We have the ultimate tool which is: Learn, Adapt and Grow. So we have now taken the lesson of an experiment that was conducted in 2013 and proven to be successful and now the growth of technology was there and a life-changing event that only pushed humanities to use its resource at disposable do the best of what we can by learning from the experiment, Adapting the workplace and implementing technology to allow us with a new norm of working culture and still obtaining the best or even better performance at work within our private space. Now work from home or hybrid culture is a thing at the workplace and new job offering that allows people to share their time between home and office shows we have also grown and changed with the world.
I believe the culture is here to stay but I also think we won’t see the end of the era of working from an office simply because from a business perspective this is a real estate asset that appreciates as the economy develops further. In times of recession or even this moment like this pandemic, we rely on the basic commodities that shape the market or let's call it the stable part of the economy such as gold, wheat and other goods. Real estate is also an important asset where the price changes according to demand and supply. Often a lot of companies are acquiring spaces at the right time to accommodate expanding teams and some companies use it as leverage to relieve cash for various reasons. This is why I think companies will not get rid of working from the office anytime soon, long as real estate stays and hold a monetary value that is always a crucial part of any business. However on the other hand my prediction is that working from home culture or hybrid will reduce to a very low level by 2026 or even disappear one day, after all a culture is a culture that will change along with the times.