The Long, Unhappy History of Working From Home

Eight months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down offices, corporate America has concluded that working from home is working out better than they thought. Many employees will be tethered to Zoom for the rest of their careers, their commute accomplished in seconds. However, working from home has a dark history. Take, for example, IBM. In 2009, 40% of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries worked remotely. Then, in 2017, with revenue slumping, management called thousands of them back to the office. It all boils down to the overlooked advantages of working with other people. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. There’s also the philosophy that if managers can see people, they must be working. On the employees’ side of the equation, the trade-off is often long hours, more virtual meetings, and blurred lines between work and personal life. Working from home does offer the benefits and the convenience of no time spent commuting, the ability to do prep work for meals and other housework during free moments during the day, and the freedom to schedule home maintenance and repair appointments, but the data shows that working from home is still not the ideal work environment for most employees. In fact, it negatively impacts their emotional and mental well-being. Routine is important because it allows employees to preserve their cognitive energy for things that absolutely need it.