About a week ago, things got serious. As the number of reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased, travel restrictions went into effect, major events like HIMSS were cancelled, schools were closed, and employers began implementing contingency plans for telecommuting.
For some organizations — especially those that have always denounced remote work — that last one is groundbreaking. Not just because some leaders still hold an archaic view of telecommuting (in my opinion), but because it can be extremely difficult from a tactical and logistical standpoint. Take, for example, my husband Dan, who works in finance. To him, the idea of having to keep track of the market while managing his staff, all from a single laptop (and not a multi-screen setup) is downright foreign, as is the idea of having zero colleagues onsite.
And so, when it was brought up as a possibility that he might have to set up a remote office, I jokingly asked, “Do you need some tips?” I’ve been working from home for about 8 years; and while I’m hardly an expert, I’ve become pretty adept. I can edit interviews, write columns, and manage social media from pretty much anywhere—as long as there’s WiFi.
To me, it’s not remote work; it’s just work.
And I’m hardly alone.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 24 and 29 percent of Americans work from home at least part of the time. In my circle alone, I know telecommuters from a number of fields, including sales, data analytics, graphic design, and of course, journalism/publishing.
Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google are among the tech giants that have asked employees to remain home, and many others are expected to follow suit (particularly in light of President Trump’s address last night). And while some may worry about productivity, despite the fact that this myth has been dispelled again and again, perhaps employers should treat this as an experiment; a way to find answers to common questions, like, What would happen if your staff made their own hours? What would happen if they didn’t have to waste time commuting and weren’t subject to distractions? On the other hand, what if they weren’t able to simply pop their heads up – or walk a few feet – to interact with colleagues?
Of course, for many roles, this type of arrangement isn’t ideal, or even possible (particularly when it comes to patient care). But for those situations that do, or can, allow for flexibility, it’s certainly worth a try, for several reasons:
- It’s what people want. According to the 2017 Global Workplace Analytics Statistics report, 85 percent of employees report a desire to work remote for at least a portion of their job. Another study found that 22 percent of full-time remote workers reported being happier in their jobs than those who work remotely. They also had better work-life balance, and were more productive and less stressed.
- It can help enormously with recruiting, according to a Forbes piece, which stated that organizations that are able to cater to the requests of top talent “will find your company more appealing to work for.”
- It can save costs. A Harvard Business Review study found that overhead expenses are typically 70 to 85 percent people related. “When you increase the number of employees that participate in remote work, you directly lower your overhead costs.”
And now, in the wake of coronavirus, there’s one more benefit, and it’s rather significant. People tend to come in to work when they’re sick. A lot of people. In fact, as many as 90 percent of professionals have showed up at the office with cold or flu symptoms, according to Accountemps. (And if you ask me, the other 10 percent are lying.)
They show up with runny noses, coughs, and fevers — not because they can’t bear the idea of missing one in-person meeting, or having to catch up on office gossip. The number one reason is that people are overworked; they simply have to do much to. Instead of FOMO, it’s FOMW.
To me, that’s pretty telling. Somehow we’ve created an environment in which valuable employees would rather show up and risk spreading germs than simply take some time off — or at the very least, get some work done in the comfort of their own home.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than accepting the sad truth that people value work over their own health, let’s create more options. Let’s remove the stigma from telecommuting.