Telecommuting has been one of the biggest workforce trends in the past 10 years. Being able to work from home has been considered a privilege — that is, up until a few weeks ago. Experts say working remotely certainly has its benefits, but not during a mandatory quarantine.
Prior to the constraints of COVID-19, 3.6% of the workforce telecommuted part-time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. They also reported that more than half of employees, not including those self-employed, could do some of their job remotely. A compelling 80% of people wished they could work from home at least part-time. And over a third of employees, comprised of mostly millennials and baby boomers, would even change jobs or take a pay cut to be able to work remotely.
When it’s done right, there are many positive aspects of telecommuting. Two major advantages for employees are it offers autonomy and flexibility. Many companies have reaped benefits like cost savings and securing top talent by allowing telecommuting.
During this time of crisis, businesses understandably want to remain in operation and to do so they have their staff working from home. But working remotely in this situation presents many concerns.
The Ability To Work from Home Is Often Misinterpreted As an Ability To Work from Anywhere.
The people who wish to work remotely crave it because of the flexibility it offers. For millennials, it’s this idea that working remotely means being unchained to the confinements of an office. It signifies freedom. There’s this illusion that working from home means the ability to work anywhere. But in reality, most employees who work remotely (and aren’t self-employed), do so only half of the time. They still go into the office 2 to 3 times a week.
For millennials, working remotely signifies freedom.
Additionally, remote workers often find unique places to get their work done. Sometimes that may be from their couch or home office, but others choose to work from coffee shops, and some even seek out office type environments. Why? Because they provide an environmental stimulus to be productive, whereas our homes can have many distractions. Remote work and working from home are not one and the same.
Remote Work As an Emergency Response Isn’t an Operating Model, It’s a Band-aid.
Employees and companies who have succeeded in implementing remote work arrangements had something we don’t have now, preparedness. Merely 30% of leadership, before the pandemic, considered their organizations to be equipped to employ such options.
Allowing employees to work remotely has been up for debate within organizations for the last decade, but it’s a tricky move that requires time and expertise to truly see a return on such an investment. The companies that have prospered from telecommuting have achieved success because they’ve done the due diligence and chosen these setups as a strategic operating model. They were designed with specific roles in mind because not every job can be done remotely and working from home isn’t suitable for everyone.
The companies that have prospered from telecommuting have achieved success because they’ve done the due diligence and chosen these setups as a strategic operating model.
Tammy Bjelland, CEO of Workplaceless, said, “while remote work is a valid strategy to maintain business continuity in times of crisis like the outbreak of COVID-19, suddenly allowing remote work with no clear policy or processes in place will not have the same positive outcomes as investing adequate resources into preparing leaders and employees for success in a remote environment.”
So, while some employers may see this time of teleworking as an experiment of its feasibility, it really isn’t a fair assessment. Judging the success of remote workers during this time of crisis is like using rabbit ears to get TV reception — it's difficult to get a consistent clear picture.
A Stanford University Economics professor, Nicholas Bloom, who is an expert on this topic, compared our present situation to exercise. He said, “Exercise goes from everything from a half an hour a week in the gym to full-on marathon training. We’re, like, throwing the entire U.S. into the exercise equivalent of full-on marathon training by sending people to work at home five days a week, all the time. And I suspect for most people, it isn’t going to work well.”
While some employers may see this time of teleworking as an experiment of its feasibility, it really isn’t a fair assessment.
Employees aren’t prepared, this wasn’t their choice, company culture is gone, normal working practices have changed, and there are now so many potential disruptions. Some people have families at home, while others are experiencing complete isolation — neither of which are conducive for being productive. Not to mention the impact COVID-19 can have on our physical and mental health, impeding our ability to perform.
With No Other Options, How Do We Make the Best of Working from Home?
Experts say that it’s imperative that leaders demonstrate empathy, communicate often, and implement an “emergency work from home” policy ASAP. As for employees, it’s essential to take care of your own mental and physical health. Break up your day, take walks outside, meditate, pray, reach out to people — whatever brings you peace.
It’s also important that we remember that all of this is temporary; whether it be weeks or months, it will eventually end. Work from home strategies aren’t good predictors of how advantageous telecommuting is for the workforce overall, but it is an opportunity for you to judge what aspects you personally like and dislike. The reminder that this is temporary also serves as a warning because there will come a time when you’re asked to return to the office. Finally, reach out to your co-workers for support. Keep conversations going, even if they are just on message threads on Slack. All we can really do is take care of each other.
Reach out to your co-workers for support and keep the conversations going.
The bottom line is that experts agree that we aren’t able to fully experience the benefits of telecommuting in this quarantine situation. Being confined to our homes doesn’t provide much room for flexibility or autonomy. However, remote work experts are advocating for employees; saying that the onus is on employers to make this forced transition run smoothly, that now is not the time to measure the success rates of remote work environments, and that we shouldn’t regard this temporary band-aid as a long-term solution.
Whether we like it or not, this quarantine is a good time for introspection. Consider this, would you change your career to be able to work remotely if given the opportunity to choose something else? You might decide you’re cut out to be a digital nomad after all.