With more people working remotely, more employers will be asking themselves if centralized offices are needed ever again. It used to be a milestone accomplishment for a rising company to get their own office space, somewhere they could all collaborate and share in each other's struggles and triumphs. We are entering a new phase where ditching the office is now a milestone of progress and many temporary changes made during 2020 will be made permanent. Losing these interpersonal connections engendered within workplaces will profoundly change the average worker's attitude towards their employer and alter their company's relationship to them.
Perhaps this is a good thing. One effect is that people will be judged more on the merit of their work than on their skills in flattery. There is nothing more annoying and unfair than being passed over on a promotion or opportunity because you didn’t go out for drinks with the boss. Since managers will have less social connections with staffers, they will be more free to advance those with superior performance with less fear of how it will affect morale.
Another effect is that there is less small talk around the water cooler. This is both good and bad; it is good for the employer who is always pushing efficiency and it is bad for the worker who loses the personal connections that make mundane tasks tolerable. Sometimes the only reason people come to work is because their friends are there. Misery loves company after all. With mass migration to online work, morale changes from group-level to individual-level, making it easier for employers to hide mistakes or unpopular moves.
The biggest upside is that workers will have new freedoms to work when they want, how they want, and for who they want. The best people will have even more choices, so expect a wave of pandering by employers to entice better workers. However I view this as similar to online dating. At first it will feel like the employment options are limitless but the reality of managing a job with physical deprivation may become tiresome and peripheral, causing poorer performance, loneliness, and obsession. But if the success and pervasiveness of online dating is any indicator, online working is here to stay.
But an employer losing empathy, or even the façade of compassion, for its staff is the more worrisome side effect. The less time we spend with other people the less inclined we are to care when a coworker is treated unfairly or replaced by a computer. The reverberations of 2020 will bring both opportunity and peril for workers and business owners so start thinking ahead and be sure to anchor your boat deep enough to prevent being beached by the outgoing tide.