I’m a remote worker. Here’s what I want HR leaders to know.
Each morning I get dressed, walk downstairs to my kitchen for coffee and generally head to my home office at 7:30 a.m. or so. My days are filled with Zoom calls and instant-message exchanges with co-workers. There are telephone calls with sources, plenty of emails to return, numerous stories to write and usually a midday walk with my dog.
This isn’t a new coronavirus routine. It’s been my normal work-from-home schedule for the past several years.
I’ve been working remotely from my home in Denver since 2016, when I was hired by a New York-based company. I continue to work from home in my current job at Human Resource Executive®. Now that most employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, enjoying a benefit they may never have asked for, I say, “Hello; welcome to my world.”
Remote work is one of those employee benefits that has sparked a lot of debate over the years: Are workers really more productive at home? How do you manage remote employees? How do you build camaraderie? Are employees (gasp) working in sweatpants?
Sure, there are pros and cons to every situation, but my work-from-home experience has been great. I have always worked much better in the quiet and without distractions, especially when it comes to writing and editing articles. Plus, as someone who interviews people on a regular basis, I don’t have to worry about distracting others or being too loud on the phone. Do I miss random gatherings, team lunches, water-cooler conversations, happy hours? Sure. But connection with my team members and co-workers has never been an issue, despite the physical distance.
Coronavirus has put a spotlight on remote work benefits, to be sure. A vast majority of employers have been forced to move their employees home as the virus spreads and social distancing and quarantining become the norm. While it’s a necessary step, it’s been filled with a lot of surprises. One big one? How many companies were so vastly unprepared for or unwilling to allow remote work.
Truth is, the vast majority of employees have been working remotely since the advent of the smartphone, when constant emails, phone calls and text messages were in the palm of our hands. For many with office jobs, work is not being done just in an office—it’s done in our homes and on our commute and when we sneak in just one more email on our phones while in bed before we go to sleep. Work is not 9-to-5, in the same way not all work is done in the same brick-and-mortar location in a cubicle.
The coronavirus pandemic is reinforcing the benefits of remote work and workplace flexibility—something employees were universally clamoring for before COVID-19 entered the conversation (research from benefits provider Unum, for instance, found that flexible and remote work was the top non-insurance perk desired by employees). The benefit is essential in a pandemic, to be sure, but it’s also an important offering for employees in a number of situations, whether they’re parents or caregivers or employees with chronic health conditions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unforeseen, massive experiment of a workplace model many employers were hesitant to adopt, but it’s one that will teach us how work can be done, how employees can be flexible, how managers can best manage and, yes, the importance of HR technology to help make it all possible.
It is important to say: This is not usual work-from-home business. Our collective worlds are turned upside down. Kids are home. Spouses are home. Stress and anxiety are high. In these tumultuous times, it’s hard not to let your mind wander. To have anxieties and fears that crop up several times a day, to click on the latest headlines, to be engrossed in the press conferences, the stunning statistics, the most updated case count. You get worried. You get distracted. As someone with chronic health conditions, I get worried about my own safety. I get worried about family, about my aging parents and in-laws. About job security and healthcare coverage and my 401(k) balance. And so does everyone else.
Whether it’s during a pandemic or when work gets back to normal, the biggest way to ensure successful implementation of remote work is for employers—managers and HR leaders among them—to offer the right support, give employees flexibility, create a culture of trust and be compassionate. These things are always important, but all the more so now in a world that is so upended.
The pandemic and the quarantine will end eventually. But if employers are willing to learn from the experience, I suspect remote work will be around much longer.