If American companies had their workers’ best interests at heart, this story would have a different ending.

Industries that provided primarily in-person services may never operate strictly in-person again:

According to Ms. Hollinshead, what began as a temporary solution is now being widely accepted as a viable alternative to traditional counselling, and her case is not alone. In fact, many industries that provided primarily in-person services just a few months ago may never operate strictly in-person again.

“I think this has transported us five or 10 years ahead in terms of video counselling,” Ms. Hollinshead said. “A lot of our clients have said they actually prefer it.”

A paradigm change of this magnitude typically happens gradually, and is often the result of a new generation incorporating their native technologies into the workplace as they reach positions of influence.

“You’re seeing the rapid acceleration of that which sometimes take an entire generation,” explains Steve Pemberton, the chief human resources officer of Workhuman, a human capital management software solutions provider. “Necessity is not just the mother of invention, but also the mother of adaptation; now there’s no other way to stay connected than becoming a quicker adopter.”

This won’t work for massage therapy, salons, and other “you must be there” in-person services, but for a lot of industries, in-person will ultimately be a thing of the past. 

Once business owners realize that they can have workers at home, not pay for their workspace, and almost completely remove the “rent” or “mortgage” line item from the Accounts Payable, it’s a done deal.

I expect it will be similar to what happened to workers in the early 1980s as retirement responsibilities shifted from the company in the form of pensions to workers in the form of 401(k) accounts. That this change was demonstrably worse for employees in no way stopped it from happening, and the same will be true for remote work. The financial advantage to companies is simply too large. 

Remote work is more psychologically isolating, requires more of an employee’s heretofore personal space in their home, and makes a personal/professional distinction with one’s time far more difficult.

Many companies will sell the advantages of no commute and the environmental benefits that holds. Those are true, but should in no way obscure what’s going on: Businesses and their owners (aka shareholders) finding a financial benefit at the expense of the employees. 

Facebook, which has as magnificent a corporate campus as I’ve ever seen, is on-board with remote work. Facebook says it will permanently shift tens of thousands of jobs to remote work:

“We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with The Verge. “We need to do this in a way that’s thoughtful and responsible, so we’re going to do this in a measured way. But I think that it’s possible that over the next five to 10 years — maybe closer to 10 than five, but somewhere in that range — I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.”

Facebook, which has more than 48,000 employees working in 70 offices worldwide, is the largest company yet to move aggressively into remote work in the wake of the pandemic. Twitter announced last week it would give most of its workforce the option of working remotely, and Coinbase followed with a similar announcement on Wednesday. Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke said Thursday that it would immediately begin a shift to permanent remote work. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Verge this week that the company is considering additional remote work flexibility beyond letting most employees stay home through the end of the year.

Collectively, the embrace of remote work upends decades of conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, where the largest companies have been built on the idea of collaboration in close physical proximity. Until recently, Facebook paid new employees a bonus of up to $15,000 if they agreed to live within 10 miles of the office. Now many of them will be able to work wherever they like — although Facebook will reduce the pay of workers who move to less expensive areas.

That last bit is crucial. Facebook employees can live anywhere—Facebook loses next to nothing from this, and in fact garners the aforementioned benefits—but employees do not get paid the same as if they were in a high cost of living area (HCOL) like the Bay Area. Different areas of the country (as well as different countries) have different economies. One only need look at the house $2 million buys you in the Bay Area versus what $2 million buys you in the Midwest for proof. 

Does this make sense? Well, it does if you’re Facebook. They’re not going to pay workers any more than they have to, and if geography is the needed excuse, they’ll use it. From the worker’s perspective, however, it’s a lot harder to stomach. If a company accepts remote work as an in-person equivalent, why should they care where a worker lives? If my time and labor is worth X dollars, how has that suddenly changed because I live in Des Moines instead of Palo Alto? 

The answer is that the company wants to pay you as little as possible, and you going remote is all the excuse they need. Some will say that’s capitalism, but I would argue it doesn’t have to be that way, that it shouldn’t be that way, and that for the best companies it won’t be that way.