Changes in the way we work could have profound impacts...

Changes in the way we work could have profound impacts on our personal lives. Credit: Getty Images/Maskot

This Labor Day, we are full of questions about the way we will work.

COVID-19 may not be as threatening as it once was, but it continues to push us to consider new forms of working across industries, as well as the way we value different jobs. Most people are back to workplaces in various forms, but millions of workers tell pollsters that they'd like to work from home permanently, and many are being allowed to stay. An estimate from Federal Reserve research suggests that the typical service firm would have 18% of its work done remotely next year. Meanwhile, many workers are burned out, "quiet quitting," or looking for more meaning in their jobs.

Coming out of the COVID mindset, how does everyone — workers and employers — plan for a new professional future, in the office or out? What will be the response to demands for flexibility in schedules, and how will workplaces be physically reformatted for the digital age? 

What will change for the vast cohorts of Americans who do not work remotely because they are putting out fires, prepping surgeries, cooking food, or stocking shelves?

If remote work expands, how will it shape our towns, villages, cities, and neighborhoods? Will it encourage workers to move to new places, without fears of long daily commutes? Will video meetings get cars off the road and some carbon out of the air? Will offices be shuttered, or will they be reconfigured to handle hybrid work and new usages?

We don’t know exactly how much of a shift will take place, but we do know we’re in a chaotic period of work turmoil already, from the volatile job market to the offices that remain unfilled even years after the pandemic’s start: Consider that close to 40% of office space in the shiny new Hudson Yards neighborhood of Manhattan is available for lease.

Changes in the way we work could have profound impacts on our personal lives, for better or worse. Would vocational flexibility allow more time with children, parents, and friends? Would new forms of socializing evolve or expand beyond the after-work drink, the break-room chat? Will young workers and struggling ones be guided and mentored in remote settings, or will they fall through the cracks? Will corporations find it easier to outsource white-collar jobs, and start doing so?

The social upshot could go even further. Will a two-tier system develop where remote workers cluster at home with all the benefits and drawbacks that entails, while in-person workers — who often labor in more dangerous and societally crucial jobs — continue the commute as usual? Will traditionally lower-paying shift work see an increase in wages because fewer people want to do those jobs?

As we come up on three years from when COVID began, our worlds, including the ones we labor in, are still gyrating in response.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.