Like many people, Jon Kollman is working from home, and he’s outfitted better than most.
A sales manager for AmeriSave Mortgage Corp. in Plano, he has an upstairs office in his Frisco condo with a big computer, three monitors and plenty of privacy. Downstairs, he has a 49-inch screen to keep an eye on mortgage work while enjoying time with his 1-year-old son.
“It’s amazing how I get to watch him grow up,” Kollman said.
He misses the camaraderie and energy of the office, and after COVID-19 gets under control, he’d like to return to seeing everybody in person. But no more than a few days a week, if that.
“Because of where I am in life with my family and son, I definitely prefer working from home,” said Kollman, who’s 30. “We love all this additional time together.”
Welcome to the new future of work. The pandemic that has caused so much pain and suffering has also accelerated a revolution in remote working. And some changes appear likely to stay after the public health crisis fades.
Before the pandemic, about 8% of employees were working from home, according to a survey of Texas business executives by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. In August, when the poll was taken, that share was up to 35%.
Perhaps most telling, respondents said they expected over 20% of employees to continue working remotely after the pandemic.
“This genie will not be going back into the bottle quietly when the world gets past COVID-19, and that is a good thing in many respects,” said one unnamed executive, who acknowledged having misgivings initially.
In May, according to a Stanford study, 42% of people were working from home, including many in high-paying positions. When including their earnings, remote workers accounted for more than two-thirds of economic activity, the study said.
Bloom and others have cited various problems. Fewer minorities hold remote jobs, which tilt heavily toward the college-educated. Only about half of Americans have an extra room for an office and a majority have children at home, which can make it hard to focus. Bloom also worries about loyalty, motivation and creativity — at least among those who are remote all the time.
“Can you create new ideas if you’re permanently working from home?” Bloom said.
Employees are divided over the issue, with large shares wanting to come into the office all the time or not at all. But the greatest number prefer a hybrid approach, which includes working in both the office and home.
That’s how Allison Harding and her six associates are doing it.
“When we meet in person, there’s just more creativity — I don’t know why,” said Harding, director of career and financial services at Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas. “We like being able to look people in the eye and do something spur of the moment. But I like being home a couple days a week, too.”
In the Dallas Fed survey, a majority of Texas executives said remote work had no impact on productivity. But almost 30% said it decreased productivity, three times more than those reporting an increase.
“Collaboration is key to productivity,” one executive told the Dallas Fed. “It just doesn’t happen as often when the team is remote.”
AmeriSave Mortgage, which has everyone working remotely during COVID, has a different take. It has had no problems with efficiency, focus or productivity, said Al Murad, senior vice president for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Believe it or not, people are working more hours than when they were in the office, and it’s voluntary,” Murad said.
When the Plano office reopens, he expects most people to still work from home. AmeriSave added 24 remote servers to provide faster access to data and technology. It’s been recruiting nationwide, often leading with work-from-home offers. It also set a higher GPA at least 3.0 — for new candidates, and Murad said applications are pouring in.
“We don’t see any downside,” Murad said about working from home. “I think this is here to stay.”
That’s already the case at Bottle Rocket, a local firm best known for creating mobile apps and websites for well-known brands. In May, Bottle Rocket adopted a new approach called: “Work from everywhere,” which can range from Starbucks to an RV to the company’s cool headquarters in Addison.
Productivity and employee satisfaction are up, said Calvin Carter, founder and CEO. Eliminating commutes and other traffic headaches save at least five hours a week for most employees.
“And we estimate that 30% to 50% of this newly found time is being contributed back to the business in billable hours,” Carter said. “So that’s really working out for us.”
Work from everywhere is a competitive advantage in recruiting, he said, and it’s also become one of the most-favored benefits, rivaling vacation time.
“You send a very strong, positive message of trust and respect when you give employees the autonomy to decide where they’re gonna work today, tomorrow and next week,” Carter said.
His biggest concern is how to develop “cultural connections” with new hires. Tenured employees are remaining connected through virtual happy hours, cooking lessons and other online tools. But there’s a disparity between legacy and new workers, which must be addressed.
“Do we change orientation? Set people up with mentors? Do more one-on-one meetings?” Carter said.
There may be no way to replace relationships that develop organically when colleagues meet at work and strike up a conversation. After Bottle Rocket reopens the headquarters, it may require new hires to spend three months or so at the mothership.
“We want people to experience the office in case that’s where they can do the best work of their life,” Carter said.