If the experience of the past few months has shown anything, it is possible that working from home is possible for large groups of employees. But for some, that doesn’t go far enough: studies are now emerging that working from home becomes the new normal because it’s so fantastic.
But ho, wait a minute. As an economist I must first answer a number of questions to become convinced of this: why is that now suddenly possible? What new benefits have we experienced and are they structurally better than the costs?
If the answers to these questions convince me, then I would also like to go one step further: let’s go all the way organize that new home-working economy in a way that is optimal for society.
Workplace adjusted too late
It would be weird if working from home was suddenly more efficient and better than the way we have worked so far. After all, if that were the case, we would have done that long ago: we have economic principles for that. So there must have been barriers that the coronavirus has broken through forcing us to sit at home.
I can imagine a lot about that culturally and organisationally. We simply changed our workplace too late in our way of working. From now on, sitting together in the office is not logical at all.
The workshop was where there were either customers or the means of production. So a farmer on the land, a baker in the bakery and a factory worker in a factory. Until the age of twenty or thirty, it was also obvious to go to the office: for the typewriter, for consultation, and later for the computer and the printer.
But that time is behind us. We no longer have to go to the office for means of production, but we did so en masse until recently. We are starting to realize that things can be done differently because of forced home working. Other matters – human contact remains important – can also be done two days a week.
Technologically, much was already possible. That did not result in large-scale productive application, because we stayed in that analog groove. In any case, this has changed in the past period: because we were forced to use technology that was available on a large scale, its applicability improved, and with it the cooperation technology.