There will be no "back to normal" after this pandemic. As Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently stated emphatically in a letter to Google employees announcing new work policies, "The future of work is flexibility."
Elena Madison, Director of Projects at the Project for Public Spaces (shown in the photo), notes, "We've learned a lot over the last year about how to run meetings and events digitally, so we're much better at it now. There are clearly benefits to digital in certain cases. It's far easier to include a wide variety of great people, and all of us appreciate not having to go to the office everyday. We'll definitely be running more online meetings and hybrid events in the future than we did before the pandemic.”
Most of us are eager to get back out there, wherever that may be - to the office, to school, or even the coffee shop, but not all of us. A minority of people have thrived working or studying from home, and will continue to do that after the pandemic is over. Moreover, those of us who want to get back don't want to do so 100% of the time.
According to a Price Waterhouse Coopers study of corporate executives, only 17% say they will have their employees go back to work like before. For example, Google's Pichai wrote in his letter to employees, "We’ll move to a hybrid work week where most Googlers spend approximately three days in the office and two days wherever they work best."
The main reason corporate executives give for not bringing their employees back is that their employees want the flexibility of not showing up every day. In addition, they also say that the cost of not having employees show up every day isn't great, provided they have some face-to-face time on a weekly basis.
A McKinsey study notes that 22 percent of the US workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. Another 17 percent can work one to two days a week. So, about forty percent of workers will work from home at least one day a week.
There is a similar trend in education. Many students will eagerly return to their schools - primary, secondary, and collegiate - this fall. However, some have found that they prefer online schooling, and don't want to return to physical school. This New York Times article describes this phenomenon among K-12 students. To fulfill this demand at the K-12 level, about 20 percent of US school districts have created virtual schools, are creating them, or plan to create them.
At the college level, online learning was well-established well before the pandemic. However, this was widely considered a second-class education for those too busy to attend college classes in person. Now, some students are considering fully online classes as a substitute to in-class classes. Nine percent of undergraduate students surveyed by Inside Higher Ed and Student Pulse never want to return to in-person classes.
More significantly, most college students who will soon return to in-person classes demand the option to participate in classes online, or at least to view videos of them. This essay by a Cornell undergraduate, which laments "Zoom University" generally, is illustrative. The Zoom-fatigued author clearly wants to return to in-person classes, but she ends her essay with this: "There are some parts of Zoom University that I hope stick around."
Our interviews with college students confirm this. Alex Roginski, a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, comments, "It's weird that I've been in college for almost a year, and have yet to attend an in-person class. I'm eager to have the opportunity to attend any class in-person this fall. However, I've developed some great study methods for online classes, especially if recorded videos are available. So, often, I'll choose to view the online version of the class. I think the key is to have the option to attend in-person or online."