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A New Era for Office Workers

Melissa Cranmer

Posted on November 3, 2020 21:28

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Will the pandemic bring about long-term changes in company policies on telecommuting and flexible work arrangements?

I once worked under a supervisor who did not believe in the concept of working from home. In her view, the arrangement lacked merit and risked losses in productivity and quality. There was no accountability, and employees would surely take advantage if they were not being directly surveilled. Extra-long lunches, surfing the internet, watching soap operas and folding laundry – the possibilities for shirking one's duties were endless. "Time stealing" was the term she used.

Fast-forward to March 2020. Along with countless other employees working in office buildings, hospitals, schools and other settings, I joined the ranks of telecommuters. What was once a benefit solely enjoyed by tech workers and the self-employed was extended to masses of office workers across every sector of the labor market. There was no time to plan. There was no gradual shift, no easing into a new configuration of working. The transformation took place overnight.

How have we fared with this new arrangement? It has not been without its challenges. Most of us share our homes with family or roommates, so finding a quiet space that is conducive to work can be problematic. Parents find themselves working alongside children who are attending school remotely. Not everyone has access to reliable technology (computers, printers, strong internet connection, etc.) essential to telecommuting. Even the best technology is not foolproof (hello, glitchy Zoom meetings!) and many people miss face-to-face social interactions with their colleagues.

However, there are plenty of advantages. Telecommuting has allowed businesses to keep afloat and continue operations throughout the pandemic. Companies have found strategies that better support telecommuting (such as providing laptops and virtual tech support) and have adapted to new ways of managing their workforce. Businesses have learned that telecommuting does not necessarily result in reduced output, and some are appreciating actual gains in productivity and quality. Overhead in the form of utilities, workers compensation claims, and even staffing (is the role of supervisors an outdated and unnecessary expense?) has been reduced.

Employees are realizing a variety of advantages as well. Time once spent commuting has been freed up for other pursuits, such as hobbies, exercising, cooking or simply getting adequate sleep. Flexible schedules are providing a better work-life balance. Telecommuting saves money on gas, car maintenance, parking and insurance. Expensive before- and after-school care has been replaced with creative, more affordable alternatives that accommodate children's schedules and still allow parents to work. And while many miss the social interactions with colleagues, we may be more efficient due to fewer interruptions and distractions.

Now that employers and employees alike have beta tested and finetuned the telecommuting model, are these changes here to stay? Will flexible frameworks that recognize employee preferences and support work-life balance continue to be offered? Have employee expectations surrounding their ideal schedule (in an office at home, some combination of the two) changed permanently? Will employees stay with a company that doesn't guarantee them flexibility?

I wonder what my old supervisor would have to say.

Melissa Cranmer

Posted on November 3, 2020 21:28

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