But hang on a minute! As an economist I would first like to see some questions answered before I am convinced: Why is this now suddenly possible? What new gains have we experienced and do these structurally outweigh the losses?
If I believe the answers to these questions to be convincing, then I would like to go one step further: let’s then take this working from home economy all the way and organise it in such a way that it provides the most benefit for society.
Workplace was adapted too late
It would be odd if working from home was now suddenly more efficient and better than the way in which we organised our work until now. If that were the case, we would have started working from home ages ago: that is what economic principles are for, right? So there must have been barriers that the coronavirus broke down by forcing us to stay at home.
From a cultural and organisational perspective that makes sense to me. We simply left it too long to adapt our workplaces to our way of working. From a historical perspective, it does not make any sense for us to still all be sitting together in offices.
Our workplace used to be where either our customers were or where our production resources were located. So, a farmer worked on his land, a baker in a bakery and a factory worker in a factory. Until 20 or 30 years ago it also still made sense to go to an office: for the typewriter, for meetings and later for the computer and the printer.
But those days are now over. We no longer need to go to an office to be able to use production resources, but until recently virtually everyone still did. Because we have been forced to work from home, we are now starting to realise that things can also be done differently. Other work aspects - human contact remains important - can be fitted into two days per week.
Technology already offered many possibilities, but these were not used productively on a large scale because we remained in the analogue mode. That has at least changed in recent months: because we were forced to apply the available technology on a large scale, its applicability has improved and by extension the technology that allows us to work together.
Working from home results in financial gains
Accountancy firmPWC calculated the financial benefits for the Netherlands: if every Dutch person who is able to work from home (around half of the 9 million salaried workers) were to work from home one additional day per week, that would generate a gain of EUR 4 billion for Dutch society.
But I believe that cost savings are not what really matters. Working from home will only be here to stay if changing where we work produces benefits for our society as a whole.
A transformation to the good life
The good news is that, according to Dutch research organisation TNO, people who work from home are ultimately happier and more productive. If this is the case, then we can take this further. My next question would then be: is there anything else that we can change in order to optimise the gains for our society?
Would it be possible, as we are starting to produce from home, to spend more of our time on other tasks - for instance, looking after our children or other people - during certain periods? Would more people be able to get involved in neighbourhood volunteering as they are spending more time in those neighbourhoods anyway? In order to strengthen the community fabric, could you perhaps have your own vegetable garden and thus to some extent combine digital production with local production?
In other words, could we enrich the concept of the working-from-home economy by looking at what else it could do to enhance our quality of life? Simply by ingraining new habits and losing old habits, such as going to the office and spending hours stuck in traffic?
The great thinkers used to believe that we humans would become so clever that we would eventually exchange our material wealth for leisure time and attention: more relaxation, more opportunities for doing the things that really make us happy. Let’s hope that the transition to working from home will contribute to the transition to the good life.
Also read Hans' previous column: Corona as the salvation of the birds and the bees.