Is office work in Israel taking a back seat to remote work?

Following the pandemic, remote/hybrid work has become the preferred model for millions of employees. But do its benefits outweigh its singular set of challenges?

 Work from home (illustrative) (photo credit: ING Image/ ASAP)
Work from home (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING Image/ ASAP)

The pandemic has left a lasting mark on many aspects of society, such as the unshakable urge to hold your breath when you walk past someone on the street (for at least one Jerusalem Post writer in this byline).

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts has been on the business sector, which saw a meteoric rise in work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid (a mix of in-office/at-home) models at the outset of the pandemic, due to pressure from many nations’ governments to stay indoors in order to prevent the spread of the infection.

In 2021 remote work, as a result of social distancing restrictions, kicked off what many now refer to as The Great Resignation – a period of mass resignations spurred by burnout and a lack of connection to work. According to a Zippia report [a US company that provides online recruitment services], on average, 3.98 million US workers left their jobs each month in 2021, a statistic that highlights the gravity of the struggle felt by those who were unprepared to spend their days working from the confines of their homes.

However, as time has progressed, remote work has become a more familiar concept, and many workers have become attached to the flexibility that it offers.

Remote work’s rise

A recent study by US consulting firm McKinsey found that 98 million Americans now choose to work remotely. And a survey by accounting firm Deloitte found that over three-quarters of respondents have considered switching jobs because they wanted greater workplace flexibility.

 CUBICLES: RELIC of pre-pandemic past? (credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90) CUBICLES: RELIC of pre-pandemic past? (credit: ABIR SULTAN/FLASH90)

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last year, Ronni Zehavi, CEO and co-founder of HR management platform developer HiBob, noted a major shift in the standards accepted by most workers. “It’s a new era. Instead of work-life balance, it’s life-work balance. Life goes first, work goes after,” he said. 

“We’ve all followed the same work patterns for decades: We work full time in an office in main cities. There was full isolation between work and life. All of a sudden, that’s changed because of the new mindset that the new generation brought to the market.”

That new generation is indeed a major factor in the growth of WFH’s popularity. The growing incorporation of Gen Z into the workforce has further driven up demand for flexible work, thanks to Zoomers’ predilection for freelance work.

A study by Fiverr [online marketplace for freelance services], which surveyed more than 7,000 Zoomers, found that a large portion of the young generation sees flexibility as a high-ranking value when evaluating career decisions. The 71% of respondents said that flexible working hours or the ability to be self-driven were top priorities when looking for a new job; and 40% of Zoomers surveyed want to own a business or freelance for their entire careers.

“As the latest generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z is at the forefront of the latest trends transforming the world of work. Amid an economic downturn and a rapidly shifting labor market, we’re seeing Gen Z continue to prioritize flexibility and passion-driven work, making freelance careers an increasingly appealing option,” said Gali Arnon, chief marketing officer of Fiverr.

“As we’ve observed in the growing community of Gen Z freelancers on Fiverr, the autonomy that freelancing affords serves as a major draw for a generation eager to pursue their passions, hone their skills and have more control over their earnings and career trajectory,” Arnon said.

Not all companies are fully on board

For some employees and employers, the flexibility offered by remote work just isn’t worth it in the long run.

On the company side, there are several reasons that managers or team leaders may urge (or even require) employees to show up at the office.

Obscure Games CEO Ayman Horani highlighted two key benefits to working from the office as opposed to working from home: bonding and loyalty.

“You retain people much easier if they like the company culture, co-workers, etc. If it’s working only from home, then people give no s--t about that and will churn easier for a company that pays better money,” he explained, charmingly.

Nechemiah Zemel, a data analyst at [web recommendation platform] Outbrain, said that the company’s approach is centered around the idea that work from the office is just plain easier.

“The approach of management is to say that it’s better to be in the office and try to stress in-person meetings because it makes communication easier, and things can happen in the hallways that don’t always happen when working remotely,” Zemel said, noting that offering WFH certainly does have some benefits, including somewhat increased productivity.

“The idea is that if I work from home, I want to prove that I’m working from home. I don’t want them to assume that I’m just on Netflix. So people working at home actually work harder,” Zemel explained.

“The idea is that if I work from home, I want to prove that I’m working from home. I don’t want them to assume that I’m just on Netflix. So people working at home actually work harder.”

Nechemiah Zemel

With this in mind, though, how is an employee’s work-life balance affected by remote work? Are there enough benefits to this work model to make it worthwhile?

The answer to that question is likely yes, although there are certainly hurdles to overcome along the way.

 SOME COMPANIES prefer in-office employees, to foster discussion, bonding and loyalty. (credit: Gil Yaari/Flash90) SOME COMPANIES prefer in-office employees, to foster discussion, bonding and loyalty. (credit: Gil Yaari/Flash90)

Employees can find it challenging, too

“I have a really great setup with my employers where I can take care of anything by email, such as [when I am] in class, without interrupting class,” said full-time student Ian Jacobs. “I can do billable hours, and I don’t need to waste time on commuting. I can get a lot done without taking away time from my studies, and I also can get more done than I would in an office.

“There are downsides, though. I’m a big fan of zones, and my computer is in my room – I don’t like working where I sleep,” he added.

Those “zones” play into Jacobs’s solution for keeping remote work fresh. “Go somewhere else to work. In my room, transitioning from my bed and Netflix to work is much more difficult than going around the corner to a place with a desk or somewhere outside. Anything that keeps you awake and focused rather than sheltered and sleepy,” he advised.

Remote worker Yocheved Deltoff also elaborated on a few of the challenges presented by remote work.

“The cons of working from home are that there is no separation between work and family life, isolation, and that it takes double the effort to find adult socialization time. I much prefer to work from home, but one needs to be disciplined and have a structured day,” she said.

Yitzchak Jaffe, another at-home worker, dove into further detail: “The hard parts are the distractions. You have to figure out how to concentrate with all the craziness going on around you. It’s very tempting to visit the fridge all day. So it’s easy to gain weight. And you might literally never leave your home... or even put on pants,” he said.

”But in my opinion, that’s where the cons end,” he added. “It’s great for controlling your diet, never commuting, doing whatever you want with your free time, and spending more time around people you love.”

Yehuda Block, an eight-year work-from-home veteran, offered a few additional pieces of advice to navigate the mental challenge presented by the format.

“My life is run through Google Calendar. My family knows if it isn’t on Google Calendar, it doesn’t exist. If someone in my family needs me, they need to get me through WhatsApp, and sometimes I won’t be reachable because I’ll be having meetings with people in the US and Canada.”

Yehuda Block

“My life is run through Google Calendar. My family knows if it isn’t on Google Calendar, it doesn’t exist. If someone in my family needs me, they need to get me through WhatsApp, and sometimes I won’t be reachable because I’ll be having meetings with people in the US and Canada. I have all the cold water, my kitchen is well stocked,” he said.

“I also recommend a second monitor, which makes it so much easier to balance out all the different things you have to accomplish. For Zoom meetings, I have one for the meeting itself and the other for presentations. I can get everything done the way I’m supposed to,” he added.

A Reddit thread [a social network with a forum-style discussion structure] on a channel that identifies as a female-driven and supported financial tipline opened the floor to discussions about how other users approached their work-from-home routines.

“I’ve really lost structure in my life. Sometimes I don’t go outside for days or even weeks at a time, and it can be hard for me to initiate socialization,” the user wrote. “I do live with my partner, who is very social and chooses to go into the office four to five days a week. I’m naturally more of a homebody, but after the last few years of this I want to feel alive again and like my days full and differentiated.”

This post received an outpouring of responses, shedding light on how people approach a work-life balance when it feels like their interactions are severely limited. Some users advised how they structure their day, focusing on keeping busy both inside and outside of the home. Others focused on scheduling time with friends from outside of the professional space.

“I think it’s important to get out of the house every day; for me, that walk in the morning is key. My partner and I also go for a walk after dinner every evening, and we have a weekday date night, which helps me feel like something more than work is happening during the week,” another user stated.

Many users emphasized the need to try to leave the home before and after work hours, even if it was just for a short walk. This allowed participants to set mental boundaries between work and personal life matters.

Coworking: It’s what’s for breakfast

One way to vary the work environment is offered by coworking offices: shared workspaces where individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses can work in a collaborative and flexible environment. Unlike traditional offices, coworking spaces are designed to promote community, collaboration and innovation among individuals from different industries and backgrounds.

A 2020 study by global real estate services company JLL predicts that coworking locations will make up 30% of all office space by 2030, which bodes well for coworking space providers like Mindspace and WeWork.

Nadav Fattal, CEO of Tel Aviv-based coworking space company ROOMS, emphasized the impact on the industry made by the 2020 pandemic. “Shortly after we officially came out of the corona crisis, huge demands began, and we noticed that the uncertainty strengthened the demand for coworking spaces. This phenomenon continues and gets stronger to this day,” he said.

Liza Mash Levin is the co-founder and CEO of Gable, which develops a workforce logistics platform that enables companies with decentralized workforces to book their employees’ workspaces in coworking locations. Her company launched in 2020 and has seen a steady increase in demand for its service.

“Most employees want flexibility, but they also want the ability to meet with co-workers and connect. Meanwhile, companies find it hard to provide workspaces across locations, stay on top of budgets, and have insight into how the spaces are being utilized,” she said.

According to Mash Levin, the demand for remote work has grown so strong that companies that choose not to allow their employees to work remotely are risking the strength of their workforce.

“Companies that don’t offer flexibility at work are companies that will basically lose the best talent,” she said. “It has become more of a table stake – this is what employees expect.”

However, it’s not just employees who are interested in utilizing flexible workspaces. Mash Levin explained that a major driver in employers’ interest in coworking spaces is the cost/benefit it offers when compared to renting and maintaining dedicated office space. Indeed, empty office spaces have become much more prevalent amid the rise of remote work.

“Companies are looking to understand how to maximize the spend on employee experience, versus having more offices just for the sake of having offices,” she said. “Ask any workplace manager out there; if they have more than 50% capacity, it’s a miracle. The solution is flexibility.”

For that reason, Mash Levin believes that “the trend is only just beginning,” and many may be inclined to agree.

As remote work becomes a more prominent work model with time, whether or not it’s truly a superior system will no doubt become apparent. But as far as one Jerusalem Post writer is concerned, having quick access to one’s own personal bathroom is hard to beat. 