As organizational leaders try to carve out a new workplace model, they will need to go beyond weighing what employees are thinking and feeling to considering the economic impacts of distributed work on businesses, industries and society. For more than a decade, Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom – a global authority on remote and hybrid work – has been measuring those impacts as part of his broader research into worldwide management practices, particularly in times of uncertainty and market shocks. His research is helping leaders make key decisions as they prepare for a return to the office.
The Post-Pandemic Workplace
During a 2017 TEDxStanford talk, Bloom boldly proclaimed, “Go Ahead, Tell Your Boss You’re Working From Home.” That was before COVID-19 upended the world. After interviewing thousands of firms during the pandemic, and collecting data showing the downside of letting employees decide their work days, he now recommends leaders do the choosing, with some caveats.
“Sure, there are upsides to working from home, the biggest being increased productivity and no commute. But our research already sees problems too. A big one is the potential for inequality. Then there are the broader problems – empty commercial buildings in cities and the ripple effects on small businesses and mass transit due to people moving to the outskirts of cities, what we call the ‘Donut Effect.’ There’s a lot to consider.”
A veteran management consultant, Bloom’s research focuses on understanding differences in organizational practices across firms and countries and investigating the causes and consequences of economic uncertainty. His core expertise lies in helping leaders determine which management practices make the most sense fiscally. And in some cases, a fully remote workplace may well be the solution. For example, his 2014 study of Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency with over 16,000 employees, showed that WFH policies can lead to 50% reduced attrition, a nearly 22% productivity gain, lower real estate expenditures and a roughly $2,000 increase in profits per employee.
“The pandemic has started a revolution in how we work,” says Bloom. “Working from home may allow for happier, more productive employees. But to keep those practices truly inclusive, leaders need to weigh a variety of factors to ensure the model serves both the organization and its employees.”
What Leaders Are Saying About Nicholas Bloom
“Nick Bloom was fantastic – engaging and well-versed. Our executive-level audience was very impressed, and we’d recommend him as a speaker to anyone interested!” – Jennifer Cutri, Manager, Conference Development, American Council of Life Insurers
“Thank you for a great session today, and thank you for sharing this great feedback. I think this was one of the sessions that our participants were most looking forward to and it scored amazingly well on the evaluation poll.” – Andrew Sikic, Associate Director of Programs, Executive Education, Stanford Graduate School of Business