Work from home

Stanford work-from-home expert on the 2022 prediction he’s glad he got right: ‘It’d be pretty horrifying if I got it wrong’

Long before the pandemic, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor, was already studying the most effective work-from-home policies.

His parents worked remotely for the U.K. government when he was a child, sparking a longstanding interest on the topic. And thanks to a handful of studies he conducted in the early to mid 2000s, Bloom had already been an expert on the subject for decades when workers around the world turned to Zoom and Slack in March 2020.

“I was about to be hugely sarcastic and say, ‘I have this crystal ball,'” Bloom tells CNBC Make It. “To be honest, I was lucky,” he says of his chosen research specialty.

But his “lucky” research focus also makes for some unique insights. Since the start of the pandemic, Bloom says he’s talked to around 10 to 20 managers a week about their business practices and work-from-home policies.

So, armed with decades worth of research and thousands of pandemic-era interviews, what’s the one prediction Bloom says it would’ve been “horrifying” to get wrong about 2022?

At the start of the year, Bloom forecast that by the end of 2022, the typical firm “will have everyone in the office three days a week, typically Tuesday to Thursday, and working from home Monday and Friday.”

With a year’s hindsight and additional research, Bloom says this prediction has largely borne out, noting that it felt particularly easy to predict by the end of 2021.

“In many ways, it doesn’t feel like a prediction. It feels like I was talking to a lot of companies and collecting data,” Bloom says. “Given the amount of data I have, it’d be pretty horrifying if I got it wrong.”

There is, however, one pandemic-era forecast that Bloom thinks he missed the mark on.

Back in 2020, Bloom published a report on the state of working from home. In it, he advocated for employee choice with regards to what days of the week they’d work in the office.

Now, he’s changed his tune slightly.

“If you survey people, the main reason they come in is to see colleagues,” he says. “They don’t come in for the bagels or the ping-pong table or whatever.”

With that in mind, Bloom now advocates for employees working in the office on the same days.

“When employees all come into the office on the same days to work together, for example Tuesday to Thursday, and stay home on Monday and Friday to focus on deep work, research suggests productivity rises by about 3% to 5%,” Bloom wrote in a recent research brief.

In all, though, Bloom sees his 2020 report as “mostly right,” noting that it was “a much harder thing to predict,” considering the general sentiment at the time, which held that working from home was more likely to be “a flash in the pan.”

Given the accuracy of his predictions so far, you might wonder what’s on Bloom’s mind for the years ahead.

Despite the influx of companies calling employees back to the office, he thinks working from home is only going to continue to grow. “In the long run, if you look five, 10 years out, we’re going to be way up on work from home compared to now,” he says.

In particular, Bloom’s conversations “with Microsoft, Google, startups and venture capital companies” about their investments researching and developing new work from home technology track with a larger trend.

Bloom notes that growth in working from home has historically been driven by new technology, and the “pace of technological progress” since the onset of the pandemic only serves to boost the longevity of remote work.

“If you can come up with a new piece of software, a gadget, a hologram … anything that makes working from home better, you now have a massive market, and can make enormous amounts of money,” he says.

“There’s this famous saying that people overestimate technology in the short run, and underestimate it in the long run,” Bloom adds. “I think that mistake is going to be made five times over, because the right technological change for remote work has picked up.”

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Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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