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More Companies Are Adopting Remote Work in a COVID-19 Environment

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I’ve been an online professor at the University for nearly a decade, so working from home is not the exception; it’s the norm. Our university was ahead of its time by providing affordable online education to students around the globe, and a great by-product of that is that we have a cadre of professors with experience and expertise that extends beyond geographic boundaries.

In addition, my stress level has significantly decreased by working remote. Instructors who work from home have zero commute times, are more accessible to their students in the online environment versus the in-person environment and have a better work-life balance.

Also, let’s not forget the money we save from not going out to eat every day or the reduced need to work in business attire. Plus, there is extra flexibility to merge my professional and personal activities into the workday. Gone are the days of canceling an in-person class because I had to stay at home to receive a delivery or go to a doctor’s appointment.

The traditional eight-hour workday for some in the virtual work environment is now a thing of the past at many companies. For remote workers, workdays can start earlier, incorporate breaks and even extend past the traditional 5 p.m. end-of-day expectation in an in-person environment.

The New Normal for the Workplace: The Hybrid or Fully Remote Environment

So what is the new normal when it comes to the standard eight-hour workday? Some companies have returned to the traditional in-person workplace, whiles others have moved to a hybrid work environment or asked their employees to consent to remote work.

According to Thought Farmer, “The hybrid workplace is defined as a business model combining remote work with office work. It may look different among organizations, but it typically includes the onsite presence of a skeletal staff, while others are free to come and go as they please, within reason.”

A hybrid work environment means individuals can work from a remote location, such as a home, during some days of the week. On other days, they work at an in-person location, such as a corporate office.  The beginning and end of the workday varies, depending upon the worker’s location – home or office.

Traditional Issues with Remote Work

Companies that use remote workers have identified certain traditional issues. One issue is that in-person workers tend to have more interactions with supervisors and a higher probability of success and promotion. Remote workers may be perceived by others as having more flexibility than in-person employees.

Likewise, splitting the workweek between multiple locations can create inequalities if the in-person/remote work schedule is not identical for all employees. Since there are various positions in the workplace, you could make the argument that some positions require more in-person hours during the week. That presents workplace equality issues.

Companies with a robust hybrid workforce also need to have a robust internet technology team to field questions and issues 24/7, depending on the geographic location of the remote workers. This need for a hard-working IT team to handle the needs of remote workers can potentially eat up any cost savings.

Drawbacks to Remote Work from an Employee’s Point of View

I’ve been on both sides of the workforce debate as both a manager and an employee. From an employee point of view, there can be drawbacks to remote work, including:

  • Lack of socialization – Some workers crave the socialization that a workplace can offer. But in the remote work setting, socialization is limited to video calls, audio calls, and text messaging with fellow employees and managers.
  • Additional costs – Employees who do remote work may be required to provide their own workspace equipment, such as a laptop, printer, workstation and chair. In addition, employers may require employees to use personal cell phones to receive phone calls and text messages, which are an additional expense.
  • Motivation Motivation to maintain a routine may be challenging in the remote work environment. Some employees thrive when they have a set schedule, while those in the remote work environment need to be self-motivators to adhere to their work schedules.
  • Internet Access – Reliable internet access is essential and is the responsibility of the worker, which is an added expense.
  • Company culture – Each organization is unique, and there are certain unwritten rules that define a company’s culture that may be difficult to translate in a remote environment.
  • Cybersecurity – Employees need to use well-protected devices to minimize the installation of malware by hackers.

COVID-19 Concerns Are Encouraging More Companies to Adopt Remote Work

One possible bright spot in the world right now is that more companies who traditionally conducted business in person are shifting to remote work environments. The coronavirus pandemic has caused companies to rethink their reentry plans and incorporate more safety measures into the workplace, especially as variants of the COVID-19 virus emerge in society.

Traditional safety measures according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include social distancing, washing hands, and wearing facemasks. However, a popular trend is providing more flexible work schedules that include remote work to promote healthy work environments.

Canva, a graphic design company, now says employees only need to physically come to work eight times a year. This shift to remote work will hopefully focus on flexibility and connection and abolish any formal rules around office attendance.

Similarly, companies like software development company Atlassian have announced that their employees can live anywhere in the world, according to Human Resources Director. Their “team anywhere” approach makes them more competitive than rivals Apple and Google, who have centralized operations in Silicon Valley.

Human Resources Director also notes that Atlassian will allow its 5,700 employees “to work in any country where Atlassian has a corporate footprint.” Employees would only need to come into the office four times a year for a summit-like conference to share knowledge in a company-wide setting.

Advantages to Remote Work

While there are drawbacks, culturally competitive companies that are taking advantage of the remote work environment note its benefits:

  1. Reduction of company costs – Companies can downscale operations, which saves them money.
  2. A reduced carbon footprint – Less commuters means fewer emissions from vehicles and public transportation.
  3. A wider talent pool – By expanding the applicant pool from local to global, employers can more easily find the best person for a position.
  4. Faster hiring and onboarding – In my experience, onboarding could take weeks, especially if equipment such as a laptop needed to be ordered. Now, onboarding can occur faster and more efficiently if the employee already has a laptop.
  5. Higher flexibility and productivity – More flexible work environments breed higher levels of productivity. I wrote this article at 5 a.m., which is my peak productivity time. However, if we revert back to the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday in an in-person environment, I doubt that many people would consider working outside of normal business hours.

Companies that seek a competitive edge are not just providing hybrid work options, but are also moving to a totally remote work environment. While this shift may encounter some issues with growing pains and scalability, the advantages of remote work or hybrid work far outweigh the drawbacks.

Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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