Covid came and went but working from home is not going away, and yet, corporations are pushing their workers to go back to the office. Why? During Covid and the resulting lockdown, tech companies reaped record profits, especially the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook, or “FANG” for short. People were stuck at home, desparate for any sort of entertainment but they were not allowed to socialise, so the only option they had was to resort to the services of these companies.
In finance, the stock market is considered as a secondary market, meaning whatever happens on the stock market could be disconnected from actual operations of traded companies. As in, prices don’t move proportionally based on actual profits, but based on speculation. Why is this worth mentioning? Because one major drawback of the shareholder theory is that it usually leads to myopia regarding real outcomes and thus financial catastrophes, including the one we are enduring now.
Corporations thought that having people stuck at home was good for business, as they were being led by myopic executives trying to please Wall Street gamblers at all costs. So they embraced en masse the idea of having workers working remotely from homes while hiring ever more remote workers. Some CEOs publicly announced that working in the office is a thing of the past now and their workers can indefinitely work remotely. But this backfired!
You see, one major limitation of capitalism is that it requires unlimited growth, hence unlimited consumerism. Yes, workers stuck in their homes are going to spend their salaries on online services, but on the other hand they are going to spend less and less on other goods and services such as cars and fuel, in cities designed mainly for cars, where they used to be stuck instead in traffic jams on their daily office commute.
Or maybe they move further away from mega cities to cheaper residential areas and save on their rent, causing the housing market to implode for a sudden drop in demand. Just imagine how this alone could reduce the homelessness problem.
If workers no longer need to live near their workplaces because they can simply work remotely, that would make traditional capital investment in real estate no longer a lucrative guaranteed option to which lazy capitalists can resort. Thus demand is lowered in the context of a more fragmented housing market, due the fact that the real estate properties in demand are now physically dispersed, reducing the possibility of controlling their prices or rents any more. Problem solved!
It just so happens that those very same corporations are either owned by shareholders that also own or invest in real estate assets, or those corporations themselves have real estate assets on their balance sheets, either directly or indirectly, in very intricate capital structures.
So there you have your answer: they are starting to realise that they have undermined their consolidated housing market by allowing for this new discovered freedom. So now they are backtracking on their promises, asking workers to go back to offices, while at the same time they lobby in states like Ireland to deregulate rent control.
By now, many white-collar workers realise that remote work is viable and working from the office doesn’t make any sense any longer. And now they see and hear the clear contradictory messages from their direct managers, who once said it’s perfectly fine to work remotely and now they are pushing them to go to the office, or else.
Capitalism thrives on exploiting workers and cannot survive without them. They have been recently singing the praises of the likes of ChatGPT as the ultimate solution for the labour problem, where all workers can be replaced and all work can be automated. This is a bluff, a pie in the sky, like Elon Musk’s plans to go to Mars that usually end in very expensive and embarrassing fireworks. It’s just another false narrative to please the gamblers of Wall Street.
Let’s call this bluff and fight for our right for remote work. Going to the office no longer makes sense: it used to get workers stuck in a loop from paycheck to paycheck. Now those workers can save enough money to have a say about their life and make better choices. So let’s not give up this right.