People were working from home before the pandemic, but the events of 2020 made a perk into a necessity. Teams made the shift; now, not everyone wants to go back. For many, remote work just makes sense. It’s not a passing fad, it’s here to stay. Whether you’re an employer or employee, here’s what you should know.
Who is still working remotely?
During the first part of 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) found that 22.7 percent of working Americans were still working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s fewer than the number working from home last summer, when BLS first started gathering data. BLS also found that 35.4 percent of workers were doing their job from somewhere other than the office.
A Gallup Panel tracked employees from late 2020 to April 2021 and found remote work was highest among groups that worked in offices or behind computer screens. As much as 80 percent of white collar workers reported telecommuting at least some of the time.
Younger workers, ages 25 to 54, were more likely to telework than other age groups. Women were more likely to work remotely than men because of the pandemic. However, numbers of remote workers were much lower when job responsibilities included manual work or physical labor.
Some jobs always have to be done completely in person. If you are a dog groomer or dental assistant or public transportation driver, you have to show up for the work to be accomplished. It’s impossible to install a new roof or perform surgery via internet connection.
However, many workers found they could accomplish at least some of their work from alternate locations. Doctors provided more telemedicine, while engineers, computer science workers and finance companies switched to almost completely remote.
Benefits of working remotely
People made the shift in 2020 to reduce their risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. The main benefit was staying well and helping other people do the same. However, as vaccines have become available and infection rates have dipped, many workers and employers continue to do their work from somewhere other than the office because remote work provides several benefits.
- Improved work-life balance – People spend less time commuting. They have more control over their schedule, so they can more effectively juggle personal and professional tasks.
- Fewer work-related expenses – Workers save on transportation costs. They can prepare food at home rather than eating out, and may need less work-related attire.
- Reduced stress – Healthier eating, no racing to work in heavy traffic, and a more balanced schedule can mean better physical and mental health.
- Increased productivity – Not everyone fits in the same nine to five cubicle. Remote work allows staff to pick their own most productive schedules and environments. Improved autonomy can lead to increased engagement.
Problems reported by telecommuters
A few months into the pandemic, some workers found themselves surprised by some harsh realities of remote work. While most people envisioned laid back hours working from the beach or cozy on the couch while the dog napped at their feet, the reality was something very different.
Remote workers started reporting high levels of stress and signs of impending burnout for a number of reasons.
- Childcare duties and work tasks don’t always mix. For most, in-person school wasn’t an option at the end of the school year. Summer camps and many childcare options were closed. Parents had to care for kids and do their jobs at the same time.
- Work schedules blurred. Because employees had flexible schedules, some felt they needed to be available for longer hours.
- Personal interaction became scarce. Video meetings don’t provide the same level of interaction as seeing co-workers face to face every day.
Drawbacks for employers
Companies can also struggle when staff shifts to part or full-time remote work. Communication is more complicated when everyone is rarely together in one place. Company culture is harder to maintain and to convey when onboarding new employees. Security is tougher because employees access data using off-site networks and devices.
Bosses trying to manage teams that work disparate schedules can end up overworked and exhausted. And while some employers save money because they don’t have to maintain as much office space, others spend more because they have to divert resources to multiple locations.
Tips for managing remote staff
If your teams will continue to work remotely going forward, maximize productivity and engagement with these tips.
- Set clear communication rules. Document and review exactly when and how staff members should keep in touch.
- Clearly define job responsibilities. Many roles changed over the past year. Make sure tasks and pay are still appropriate.
- Check in frequently. Managers should both ask how their employees are doing and provide feedback at regular intervals.
- Create connections between co-workers. Have virtual coffee breaks or regular team huddles. Take time for team building activities. It may feel artificial at first, but social connections are crucial for long-term engagement.
- Provide the right tools for the job. Give them the hardware, software, office supplies and other equipment they need to do what you’re asking of them.
- Review data security procedures often. It’s easy for workers to forget cybersecurity concerns when they’re in the privacy of their living room or a cozy corner of the coffee shop.
- Celebrate achievements. Recognize individuals and teams that reach goals or create growth.
If your workplace is still trying to get back to pre-COVID-19 production levels, whether you’re working remotely or in person, BBB of Central East Texas has a resource that can help. Make plans now to attend our webinar “Rebuilding Your Team” on July 12, 2021. Registration is free. Register for the Rebuilding Your Team webinar.