Will They Go Back? Remote Work Is Here To Stay…

Last week was the first full week of spring. Beautiful 70-degree temps. Gentle breezes. And the fish are biting – or so they say.

I have to admit, it’s pretty tempting to sneak away a couple of hours early this afternoon with the old tackle box and fishing rod. Much of my workday involves research that can be done anytime, night or day. Quarterly conference calls, manufacturing reports, SEC financial filings… they’ll still be there when I get home.

Working remotely certainly has its advantages. There might be more distractions. And it takes willpower to stay on task and not fall behind. But it’s nice to have the flexibility to shuffle the work schedule around if need be. The rigid ways of the past aren’t necessarily the most conducive to productivity.

Who’s to say an employee can’t get more done at 10 PM on a Sunday than they would right after lunch on a Tuesday? I must say, I don’t miss the old days of being chained to my desk from 7-5 (or later) Monday to Friday — the uncomfortable suit and tie either.

Even before the pandemic, technology made it possible for more and more professionals to spend less time in the cubicle and get work accomplished elsewhere. Of course, Covid has greatly accelerated the transition, shifting the work environment for millions of Americans on a scale that would have been unthinkable before last March.

Will They Go Back?

For many organizations, there is only a skeleton crew at the office – the rest of the rank-and-file employees are clocking in from home these days. You might even be one of them. Downtown office towers in cities from coast-to-coast have been eerily quiet. Not quite ghost towns, but not exactly bustling either.

Will these missing workers return now that vaccines are being widely distributed? Sure, some will. But many won’t. The Pew Research Center recently conducted a nationwide poll that revealed some fascinating findings. For starters, they discovered that seven-in-ten workers (71%) whose job responsibilities can be handled from home have chosen or been asked to telework, up from one-in-five (20%) before Covid struck.

And judging by the survey, they haven’t skipped a beat. Let’s take a look inside the numbers.

77% — the number of employed adults working from home who say they have adequate workspace.

87% — the number who have access to all the technology and equipment needed to effectively do their job.

80% — the number who have been able to meet deadlines and complete projects on time.

73% — the number who say that balancing work and family obligations is now easier than before, or at least similar.

87% — the number who claim to have similar or greater flexibility in setting their work hours and daily schedule.

Remote Work Is Here To Stay

I could go on. But the main takeaway is this… The vast majority of workers who have made the switch from office life to telework report little to no change in overall job satisfaction, relationship with supervisors, or opportunities for advancement. The only thing missing is the water cooler gossip.

Not everyone agrees. About one-in-three teleworkers say that Slack messaging and Zoom (Nasdaq: ZM) video calls just aren’t as good as real human contact. And parents with young children have reported greater numbers of interruptions and challenges.

But as a rule, most have adapted well to this new lifestyle and are quite content trading the rush hour commute for a comfortable spot on the couch with a laptop. That’s why when the threat is over, many won’t be coming back to the office.

If given a choice, over half of those surveyed (54%) prefer to continue working all or mostly from home. Another 35% want to work from home occasionally. Only a small minority (11%) prefer not to work from home at all.

Of course, not everyone has the option. Those involved in retail or construction, for example, still must man their post. Still, we’re talking about entire sectors of the economy where a good chunk of displaced workers might not come back to the office, from finance to marketing to IT. According to Statista, teleworkers comprise about 45% of all American workers.

With a national labor force of 160 million, that means an estimated 70 million employees are working from home right now. And half of them might continue to do so in the future.

Closing Thoughts

Needless to say, this presents a threat for real estate investment trusts (REITs) that own traditional office properties. Faced with slackening lease trends, rising vacancy and weak rental collection, the average stock in this group posted a decline of about 20% last year.

But as they say, threats go hand-in-hand with opportunities.

For example, over at Takeover Trader, already done well with a few remote work enablers as well as a few “work from home” plays.

Take Twilio (Nasdaq: TWLO), for example. Twilio’s application programming interfaces (APIs) have become indispensable to web and mobile app developers looking to embed voice, video, text, chat, and email capabilities. The customer base has expanded rapidly and now spans 200,000 accounts around the globe.

If you’ve ever received an automated text message saying that a dinner table reservation is ready or an email with an online account login code for two-factor verification, Twilio may have been involved.

I first profiled TWLO in September of 2020 – and shares went on to deliver close to a 50% return in a month. We no longer hold this one in our portfolio at the moment, but there may still be some upside left in this one for readers who are interested. Either way, there are plenty of choices out there for investors who are interested in the long-term potential of this trend.

In the meantime, another trend investors would be wise to consider right now is commodities… And we think the best opportunity around comes from a strange new road being built in Alaska…

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