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Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

The Future of Information Work

computer screen with dozens of faces for video meeting

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates; Shutterstock

COVID-19 caused approximately one-third of U.S. workers to shift abruptly from working in offices to working from their residences.1,6,16 Early evidence suggested short-term output of knowledge workers did not drop and might have increased slightly.10,13 Furthermore, working from home has advantages such as time saved by not commuting and, for some, the flexibility and autonomy to set work schedules around home-life responsibilities such as child-care.9 As a result, many technology companies (for example, Twitter, Facebook, Square, Dropbox, Slack, and Zillow), announced remote-work policies to enable some or all employees to work remotely after the pandemic.4 Employees at other companies have threatened to quit if made to come back to full-time in-office work.11 Few think work will go back to how it was pre-pandemic, but our and related research suggest remote work also presents challenges that should be addressed going forward,11 both by improving remote workers' ability to connect with each other, and by effective use of hybrid workers' in-office time.

We analyzed data on the work patterns of Microsoft employees before and after Microsoft's firmwide work-from-home mandate in March 2020. For employees who worked from home prior to the pandemic, we assumed any observed change in behavior after the work-from-home mandate was not due to working remotely, but to other factors, perhaps COVID-related. For the many Microsoft employees who worked in the office prior to the work-from-home mandate, we assumed changes in their behavior were due to a combination of working from home and the same outside factors that affected the employees who had worked from home to begin with. As illustrated in Figure 1, if work outcomes for these two groups moved in parallel prior to the pandemic, we could subtract out the differences in behavior changes between the two groups to isolate the causal effects of working from home.16


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