Past, Present, and Future of Working From Home

Molly Franklin

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022

The start of work from home

For almost a year now, millions of Americans have been working from home because of the COVID pandemic. When offices told their employees to bring their laptops home with them in March last year, most expected to be remote for only two weeks. However a year later, it is clear that working from home is not going anywhere any time soon. Working from home does not work with all industries, as essential workers have been bravely going into work since the start of the pandemic, but for those industries where it is feasible, what do their futures look like? Will Americans ever return to an office five days a week and how will COVID vaccine distribution speed up this process of returning back to work.


Where we are with vaccines in the U.S.

For the new Biden administration, vaccine distribution to the American people is high priority. President Biden’s plan of having 100 million shots in his first 100 days was just the beginning of his effort to stop this pandemic and get America back to normal. As of March 1, 2020 50 million people have received their COVID vaccine in America since Biden took office. With a third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on  February 27, 2021, more people will continue to be vaccinated. Because of this new vaccine, President Biden has announced that there will be enough vaccines for every American by the end of May, a month earlier than previously thought by the administration. While this vaccine distribution will help Americans get back to normal, will America ever be the same? Can people get back to work now, and do they need to return to offices? While it is up to each company to decide when and how to get their employees back into their physical work spaces, employers who demand that their employees get vaccinated before coming back to work must make sure that this demand complies with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other workplace laws.


History of working from home

Working from home is not a new concept. Many companies prior to COVID allowed their employees to work from home and many employees lived in different cities than the cities that their offices are in. Skype, Slack, Zoom all make remote working possible. However, are employees really as productive when they work from home? Do the pros outweigh the cons for companies?

IBM was one of the first major companies to have employees work remotely. In 1979, IBM had 5 employees working from home by installing “boxy, green-screened terminals” in the homes of those employees due to the jam in the connection at the office. In 1983, 2,000 of IBM’s employees were working remotely. By 2009, 40% of IBM’s employees worked from home. However, in 2017 IBM had decreased in profits for the twentieth quarter in a row.  IBM was falling behind other competitor companies like Google and Apple financially and innovatively. IBM decided that working from home was not working for them. It made an announcement that it wanted thousands of it’s employees to come back and work in its offices. IBM believed that the lack of productivity was because of this work-from-home arrangement and that its employees would be more productive if they came back into the physical offices together.

What companies are planning

Today, work productivity is a concern for companies. Are employees really being as productive at home? Is this working and something that could save companies money due to not having to rent and own offices? While most companies plan on going into their offices eventually, very few companies have any concrete strict plans of what this will look like and when it will happen.Although COVID vaccine distribution has taken off, companies are still not likely to go back into the office full time any time soon. Roughly 1 in 10 companies expect all employees to return to their pre-COVID work arrangements. Amazon and Apple’s current stance is that employees can continue to work from home through June 31, 2021 although these announcements are constantly changing because of the new COVID data.

COVID has made companies have to adopt and be flexible. Working from home is doable, but for most companies, it is not ideal. Most companies will hopefully return to the office this summer. However, it will likely be a flexible schedule and even with the COVID vaccine, it will be a long time from now before employees have their pre-covid work conditions, if they ever do.