Economist’s Take on The Post-Pandemic Workplace Comeback

America’s leading economist of urban life, Edward Glaesar, says a return to the workplace is crucial, especially for the young.

Remote working is no new concept; however, within a few months of the pandemic setting in, the US labor force that was working from home went from 5% to nearly every applicable American. Today, remote work is a “white-collar norm”. Nationwide, office attendance is down about 19% compared to pre-pandemic with tech hubs, like San Francisco, still down 52%.

Glaesar has mixed feelings about the long-term effects on all of this. The future of work favors choice. Rather than thinking there’s only one way to live or work, many will look to a hybrid model. That can’t be said for all, workers in the later stages of their careers, may settle for going fully remote. Glaesar doesn’t think it’s “absolutely necessary” that every employee get back into the office, but there will be an even larger negative impact on cities if it doesn’t happen.

Cities are among mankind’s finest creations – engines of entrepreneurship, inventiveness, and economic growth. Glaesar describes the pandemic as a direct and withering assault on cities. “If you take the definition of urbanism,” he says, “a city is the absence of physical space between people. A city is density, proximity, closeness.” Social distancing amounted to “the rapid-fire deurbanization of the world.” Americans went from willingly paying a “hefty premium, whether we were an advertising company on Madison Avenue or an ordinary 22-year-old who just wanted to be in New York, to all of a sudden wanting to have no one around us whatsoever.”

With the threat of Covid on the demise, will employees go back to work in their city offices? This question isn’t just being asked by employers but also city officials, service workers, street vendors, etc. The service industry accounted for 32 million American workers in 2019 – a fifth of the American labor force. “These workers thrive by providing services to people that come to big offices” and may be hit particularly hard. This can also be said for the collaboration network of workers. Since the rise of remote work, employees find it much harder to collaborate and bounce ideas off their co-workers.

So the question lies: CAN companies get their employees to come back into the office? Glaeser thinks it’s an absolute possibility through their wage power, it will just come down to how much it will cost. To read the full article in the Wall Street Journal, click here.