My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Working from Home – Get Me Out of Here!

This will be my last original blog post until September—my brain has nothing left in it after the last few months of dealing with COVID financial subsidies, loans, and my regular deferred personal and corporate tax filings. I will post The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter the next two months and hopefully golf a lot.

Like most people, I have been working from home due to COVID. I would venture to say that many of us are somewhat surprised at how well we have adapted to our home offices and how efficient we have been from home. But personally, I do not like working from home full-time, as my virtual office never seems to close.

I cannot wait until I can start going back to the office so I can meet with colleagues and clients again (in whatever modified form that takes). I am okay with a couple days a week from home, but that is it. (And I don’t even have children at home to take care of anymore—although my dogs have become much needier now that they are used to me being home full-time.)

The issue of working from home has become an extremely hot topic for obvious reasons. A few weeks ago, I read an excellent article by Eric Andrew-Gee of The Globe and Mail, “Is the office era over?”

Remote work: A case study

The article was premised on a 2010 study of Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, which had half its people work from home four days a week for nine months back in 2010. The CEO of Ctrip, James Liang, happened to be taking his PhD at Stanford and, along with Professor Nicholas Bloom and other researchers, analyzed the results of this remote-work experiment several years before COVID hit the world economy.

The study revealed two key results about employees who worked from home:
  1. They were 13% more productive.
  2. Even though they were more productive working from home, they were not content. The study found half of the workers who had a 40-minute or longer commute said they wanted to return to the office, as they were lonely. Bottom line, the study showed working from home “was great for productivity but lousy for morale.” 
The Globe article is very wide ranging. If this topic interests you, I suggest you read the entire article (it may be behind a firewall if you are not a Globe subscriber). Below, I summarize five of my favourite points made in the article:
  1. “The logistical success of the experiment [working from home during COVID, which the author considers a delightful surprise revealed by the pandemic] has unlocked the second delightful business surprise of the quarantine: real estate savings.” It is going to be very intriguing to see how this plays out in the future.
  2. Global architecture firm Gensler asked its 2,300 employees about their preferences post-COVID, and only 12% wanted to continue to work from home—44% wanted to go back to the office or were undecided, and the rest wanted to work from home on a part-time basis. Anne Bergeron of Gensler said this: “People miss in-person collaboration. On-the-job learning that you get casually from peers is not there.” 
  3. Who is going to pay for computers, WiFi access, and ergonomic chairs going forward? 
  4. “That sense of the home as a place of calm and relaxation–a sanctuary from the demands of work–is now in jeopardy.” 
  5. Professor Bloom believes the ideal situation is “working in the office Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (to create a buffer with the weekend) and spending Tuesdays and Thursdays at home. Cycling through A and B teams [the teams being groups of employees] could feed innovation, give workers a respite from the office slog and reduce the need for real estate by half.” 

My personal experience: Four takeaways

My four takeaways from working at home are as follows and dovetail with the Globe’s article:
  1. I suspect my true nature is somewhat anti-social, but over the years I have adapted to become more social (or my arrogance is at such a level that I think people need to hear my opinion–remind me to ask my colleagues about this when we get back to the office). Thus, I have been surprised at how much I miss going to the office to collaborate and discuss issues with colleagues and to meet clients. Phone or video communication does not fully replace actual human interaction for me.
  2. One of my more subtle skills is that I usually have a good sense of when a client’s eyes are glassing over from too much technical talk or they are just disengaged. I am typically fairly good at bringing the conversation back around, so they become reengaged. I feel that this skill is somewhat muted when I cannot look them straight in the eyes. 
  3. In my work office I am up and about, walking the floor, going downstairs and moving, even if it is going to get some water. At home I find I am more static, and I have had multiple bodily discomforts. Who knew working from home could be so hard on the body? My wrist kills from a mouse that does not move as easily between screens at my home office, my chair is not as ergonomic as my office chair, and I have had soreness in my hips from too much sitting. But seriously, even if I purchased better computer accessories and a better chair, I would probably find I am just sitting more (even though I am working out more). 
  4. One of my clients recently told me “the virtual office never shuts down.” It just seems you need to be on even more at home—and more importantly, as in point #4 above, home loses its sense of sanctuary from work. 
We all know things are never going to be the same, and everyone has different likes and dislikes about working form home. However, I think the initial Ctrip study was bang on. Businesses are going to have to experiment to find the balance between productivity, employee morale and mental health.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

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