Elizabeth Engler Modic

My husband has telecommuted from home for more than 10 years, traveling to corporate headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina, once or twice a year. In mid-March, his quiet, daily routine was upended when schools and work went remote. Instead of having the house to himself, the dog, and two cats during the day Monday through Friday, we were all there. I set up my office in the dining room, our kids logged onto school from their respective bedrooms, and the animals wondered why we were all home all the time.

Those with school-aged kids know the transition from in-person classes to remote learning left a lot to be desired this past spring. Many districts ended the school year earlier than scheduled and began working to prepare for distance learning this fall. My transition from an office to work from home (WFH) was much smoother – everyone in the company has laptops since many travel regularly for work, and remote access to files and video conferencing was already set up company wide.

According to the latest Policy Brief from Stanford Economist Nicholas Bloom (http://tiny.cc/c3qosz), the U.S. economy is now a working-from-home economy. Having published WFH studies in the past, Bloom, together with colleagues Jose Barrero (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México or ITAM) and Steve Davis (Chicago), found in a May study that 42% of the U.S. labor force is now WFH while 26% (essential workers) continue working on their business’ premises.

Bloom notes that while his recent research has “highlighted several recurring themes, each which carries policy questions… the bottom line is clear: working from home will be very much a part of our post-COVID economy.”

Weighting these WFH employees by their earnings in 2019 as an indicator of their contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the researchers found “at-home workers now account for more than two-thirds of economic activity.”

This transformation is a good thing, because without the ability to WFH, the economic impact would have been far worse, as Bloom notes “remote working has allowed us to maintain social distancing in our fight against COVID-19. So, working from home isn’t only economically essential, it’s a critical weapon in combating the pandemic.”

However, WFH isn’t possible for many working in manufacturing as they need to be on-site to produce products that must be shipped to customers, all while remaining socially distant. Companies must adapt and change now, and automation may become key for survival. While automation has been growing throughout the last decade, crises often accelerate longer term trends, and automation is likely to surge in the coming years to keep production going and enable social distancing on factory floors.

Send me an email and let me know what plans your company has for implementing automation.