Remote Work: Adjusting to (and Thriving in) the New Normal
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much in full swing, many states are navigating the process of reopening. That means many American workers who were formerly claiming unemployment benefits will start needing to look for work again; while those wages never reached the same level as temporary disability payments in California (which can be up to $5,077 per month), the inflated weekly benefit from the pandemic was able to keep many laid-off staff members afloat until now.
Of course, not everyone has been furloughed over the past few months. While stenographers and court reporters -- who can make up to $70,000 during their first year in the field -- were largely unable to work due to court closures, many businesses have been able to shift to a completely remote workforce over the past few months. Even professionals who typically rely on physical interactions with clients have had to make changes. If you're a real estate agent (which is typically a lucrative endeavor, as real estate has outperformed the stock market two-to-one since 2000), you might have to get creative in order to show off available properties or virtually meet with prospective buyers and sellers.
But with many areas entering the final stages of reopening, many employees and business owners hope that they'll be back to work as usual before too long. However, the danger of the coronavirus is far from over -- and without a vaccine, our best defenses continue to be frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing. As you might have already guessed, none of these measures is especially conducive to the traditional office environment or any occupation that requires you to work in close quarters with others.
So what's the solution? It might be to make a permanent shift to working from home. Roughly 72 percent of people surveyed by Monster.com said they'd be hesitant to return to an office even when they were allowed to do so and 60% said they have no desire to return to in-person meetings. Instead, 45.5 percent of new job seekers will adjust to working remotely, with 42 percent specifically seeking out remote positions. Many big-name employers are making adjustments in order to stay fully staffed in this new normal, with tech leaders including Google, Twitter, and Facebook allowing employees to either extend work-from-home arrangements or continue remote work indefinitely.
Of course, remote work isn't a possibility for every business. But the pandemic did force many organizations to take a closer look at the jobs they used to insist could be performed only on-site. Much to their surprise, some found that their employees were perfectly capable of doing their jobs without ever coming into the office. And as a result, even smaller companies are allowing their employees to continue operations from the comfort of their homes for the time being whenever possible.
That said, there are some definite challenges to remote work. Cybersecurity is an ongoing issue for many businesses, as employees may be inclined to use their personal devices and unsecured connections when working from home. In fact, a recent survey showed that 52 percent of employees felt they could get away with riskier behaviors pertaining to cybersecurity when they worked outside of the office setting. Whether you're an independent contractor or you're managing a team of staff, it's important to invest in cybersecurity measures (like VPNs, password lockers, and other types of encryption) to ensure both professional and personal data stays safe during this time.
Another challenge is productivity. Although older data suggests that employees may be more productive when they're able to embrace more flexible work arrangements, the pandemic has forced many family members to stay home at one time. An employee who's trying to balance Zoom work meetings, homeschooling, and other obligations likely won't be able to give their all in every situation -- no matter how much they care. Still, the upside is that remote work has forced many businesses to streamline and embrace leaner operations; with fewer distractions and unnecessary meetings, it's easier to see what's really essential to get the job done. Many major businesses are reporting that productivity has gone up during the pandemic, as well, which just goes to show that some are actually thriving right now. But regardless, individual employees will need to work out logistics with other members of the household and discuss how goals will be set and met with their managers if they want to stay productive. And if you don't already have a designated room for work with a bit of privacy and quiet, you'll want to establish one if you want to keep working from home.
Remote work certainly isn't the ideal scenario for everyone. Many employees thrive off of social interaction, meaning that they may not do as well in isolation. Working from home can make it more difficult to concentrate for some -- and if there isn't enough oversight, it can be hard for some employees to really care enough to perform as well as they used to while in the office. But for others, working remotely is the ideal scenario that provides more solitude, more control, and more flexibility. If your office plans to continue with remote work, you'll want to conduct a thorough self-assessment to determine your own feelings about it, the challenges you face, and the actions you'll need to take in order to be successful. As many are finding out, remote work may be crucial to our economic success in the future... but it may require some major adjustments along the way.