Many employees love the flexibility and productivity gained by working from home. Less commute time and more flexible working schedules mean they can get work done on their own terms. Unfortunately, these benefits come at the expense of building closer bonds and quality relationships with their co-workers. A cost that will soon be amplified by the advent of Artificial Intelligence displacing white collar workers.
Work from Home is Here to Stay
Working from home used to be a perk reserved for the select few. For most, it was a luxury reserved for those who were sick and couldn’t go into the office. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly common, even though a number of employers are fighting back.
Even with employers having a reflexive reaction, we believe that work from home is here to stay. High inflation, increasing gas prices, ridiculous new and used car prices are making it prohibitively expensive to even get to a workplace.
As economic conditions are likely to deteriorate further, companies will be faced with lower revenue and margins. The extravagant cathedrals built to lure top talent with on-site cafeterias, gyms, free snacks, gourmet espresso machines are quickly transitioning from a recruiting advantage to an unnecessarily large expense.
As companies look to cut expenses, they will jettison the workplaces of the old guard and embrace the lower cost structure of work from home employees.
The biggest drawback to eliminating the physical workplace will be the lack of relationships and opportunities that people have to connect with one another.
Work from Home Experience Differs between Groups
How people build and maintain relationships while working from home varies greatly depending on when workers started with a company and when they began working remotely.
Employees that have worked at the same company for many years prior to working remote have a well-developed bank of relationships that remain relatively strong. As time progresses and the amount of interaction declines, these relationships will weaken and co-workers who once took time to interact with each other may find themselves drifting apart.
Alternatively, employees who started working from home from the beginning of their employment at an organization may find it difficult to build relationships in the first place. Unless there is concerted effort to bring people together, they may find that focusing on work tasks is the primary expectation and the amount of time spent interacting with co-workers is kept at a minimum.
By not having many opportunities to interact with co-workers, work will become more productivity focused. The relationships become secondary to completing individual tasks.
Even task assignments become less personal with task tracking and assignment tools like Asana, Monday, or Jira.
With no relationship, does it matter who completes the work?
The pace at which relationships deteriorate will greatly depend on how strong relationships were prior to working from home. For employees with strong relationships prior to working from home, it may take several years for relationships to deteriorate or employees to turnover. For new employees, they may struggle to build relationships in the first place.
Whichever way that it happens, we have to consider the possibility that without any relationships and impersonal work assignment systems, does it matter who completes a task?
There are two factors that will greatly impact who will complete work tasks in the future.
- Increasingly useful Artificial Intelligence
- Deteriorating economic conditions
Artificial intelligence is one of the topics that everybody is talking about. It’s one of the buzziest business buzzwords of the year and for good reason. The technology will upend the status quo of white collar workers.
There have been studies at call centers which found that properly trained AI had the ability to help low wage underperforming workers perform at an average to above average level.
In the workplace, this means that lower cost employees could also leverage AI to become more efficient at their jobs and bring them up to an average or above average level.
At the same time, AI large language models are making it easier for people to communicate across language barriers. This further enables companies to find lower cost labor in the form of offshoring where communication barriers may have been a primary reason to keep a job in-house.
When combining the ease of finding lower cost labor with the effects of high inflation and a deteriorating economy, companies will have greater incentive to find new ways to reduce costs to maintain margin.
How Work from Home will Compound White Collar AI Layoffs
Employees working from home in a remote location that have minimal interaction with managers and other co-workers essentially become salaried contractors with benefits. Work allocation systems turn many jobs into a series of smaller tasks that must be completed by a deadline and the person completing it largely becomes irrelevant.
Many companies have traditionally viewed their employees as their greatest asset. Employees are often the last line item that managers want to look at when considering layoffs to reduce costs. At the end of the day, managers are people too and don’t want to terminate the employment of friends who they see every day and have strong relationships with.
This is where the compounding effect of work from home and AI becomes increasingly problematic for employees who work from home.
With no meaningful relationship between manager and employee, increasing incentive to lay off employees in a deteriorating economy, and the availability of low-cost AI powered alternatives, there are few reasons not to lay off existing employees.
There will always be jobs for people with the right specialized skillsets. Sometimes its managing people, other times it may be manager or developing new AI systems to complete work that humans used to complete. However, it’s likely that many high skilled employees will take on roles more similar to contractors. They will be assigned tasks with a deadline and may even work for several different companies on an as needed basis.
Employees that opt to work from home may appreciate the convenience in the near term, but may also find that they are easy targets if their organization opts to lay them off. Many jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI, but could also be displaced by lower cost AI enabled offshore employees.
Time will tell how the job market will evolve over the coming years, but we would not be surprised to see middle-class white-collar workers increasingly squeezed out of the workplace.