With COVID-19 bringing an exodus to offices worldwide, business is being conducted from living rooms, kitchen tables, home offices, and bedrooms. Employees and employers alike are beginning to wonder, is this sustainable? Is it here to stay? Will a remote workforce be considered a long-term impact of COVID-19? What does remote work mean for management?
Before COVID-19, 4.9 percent of the workforce in the United States worked fully from home according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey. Due to the changing nature of work as a result of COVID-19, Gallup data found that 63 percent of U.S. employees by the end of April 2020 had worked from home in the last seven days.
Early research indicates mixed reviews among employees on working remotely. While many find freedom in ditching their business attire for something a little bit more comfortable, some are yearning for the days of returning to the office and business as usual.
Many people find the line between home and work blurred–leading to longer and more demanding work days. People find that childcare, electronics, household chores, and other distractions are hindering their productivity and providing too many interruptions throughout the day. However, other people find that they are much more productive at home without the distractions of the office. According to a 2017 Gallup report, 20 to 25 percent of remote workers are more productive than their in-office colleagues. These survey results are in opposition to the data published in the Harvard Business Review in 2018, finding that two-thirds of employees working from home are always or very often not engaged.
Despite some of the mixed reviews, the idea of remote work is becoming more mainstream. A Citrix poll asked workers how likely they thought their employers were to embrace remote work in the future–over one-third fully expect their employers to embrace this new way of conducting business. One reason that employers might be so keen to make the switch to online is because of the cost savings of remote work. A Gartner survey found that 74 percent of chief financial officers plan to shift at least 5 percent of their employees to remote work in the future.
According to the Harvard Business Review, managers can take a few steps to best support employees working remotely. Experts encourage managers to be more intentional with communication. It is important to bridge the social and knowledge gap among employees. This can be done with scheduled video chats or phone calls to check in with each employee as they navigate this new terrain. This also is an opportunity to clearly lay out expectations going into this new season and explain any restructuring of “business as usual” processes.
Experts also encourage managers to create space for social interaction. Many workers feel disconnected from their co-workers without the casual chit-chat around the water cooler each day. To supplement this disconnect in virtual work, managers are being told to leave time before and after meetings for non-work related discussions. Some experts even suggest going so far as scheduling virtual events that encourage employees to come together socially, to serve as a reminder that they are seen and appreciated for the work that they do each day.
The Society for Human Resource Management explained the importance of setting clear boundaries for employees, while also remaining understanding and flexible during such an unprecedented time. While it may be tempting, these experts implore managers to not micromanage their teams during remote work. They say with appropriate and frequent communication, micromanaging is not necessary. Rather, managers are told to channel their energy into celebrating the successes of the team throughout this time.
Will working in the office be a thing of the past? What will the long term impacts of COVID-19 be on the future of working? Only time will tell. For now, the work day continues with many employees conducting their business online and via Zoom, punctuating each day with a new adventure and new interruptions.
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