Pros vs. Cons of our New Normal - Remote Workforce
Remote work is most likely here to stay for a large segment of American workers according to Joy Einstein, a partner in the Employment and Labor Law Practice Group for Shulman Rogers Law Firm in Potomac, Maryland. Joy and I sat down for a question and answer on teleworking.
(OK, it wasn’t a sit-down, we did it by email during this time of quarantine, but it was very impactful, nonetheless.)
Being one of the leaders for an Employment and Labor Law Practice for a well-known DC area law firm, made Joy the ideal person to give us a future view of the changing work climate.
How is telework changing the world as we know it?
Joy: The forced telework of mass numbers of employees is already creating a culture that respects and encourages telework in a way not seen before. Prior to March 2020, many employers felt hesitant to permit their employees to work from home, and employees reported feeling scrutinized when they did. Now, this mindset is changing as employers recognize that the same productivity can be achieved through telework, as long as the company is careful about setting expectations, checks in on employees, and maintains open communication.
Telework is also providing businesses the opportunity to lower their overhead at a time when many desperately need to. Telework has shown companies they do not need to maintain a physical office, office equipment, paper files, coffee, and catering for various office meetings. All that is required is the less-burdensome investment in tools that facilitate online work—Bluetooth headsets; laptops; dual screens; videoconferencing programs; etc. and employees can, in large part, operate just as efficiently.
Telework is now forcing managers to focus anew on how to maintain motivation, productivity, and collaboration among a remote workforce. Remote work can tend to make employees feel less connected to their employers and thus less invested in their work. Good managers will adapt to include more video check-ins and virtual happy hours so that motivation, productivity, investment, and collaboration remain high. This is particularly important for more extroverted employees who can rapidly lose motivation in a remote environment.
Finally, telework is also likely to greatly decrease the need for business travel. There may be a continued hesitancy to travel for quite some time even after the pandemic subsides while at the same time, remote workers will have renewed faith in videoconferencing programs like Zoom, Skype, and MS Teams that can be just as effective as in-person meetings.
When things return to normal (or the new normal), how will this change the workforce?
Joy: Remote work is most likely here to stay for a large segment of American workers. In addition, thousands of employees have been hired during the pandemic for part-time work by large firms such as Walmart, Amazon, Target, grocery chains, etc. Since the shift towards online shopping and food delivery is likely to stay, these part-time positions are likely to stay as well. Employees in the service industry may also be scarred from losing their regular jobs during the pandemic and thus may keep a full-time job plus a part-time job going forward, in case another pandemic strikes. Employers may also not be in a financial position to hire new full-time employees for the foreseeable future, so part-time positions may be the only option. Thus, post-epidemic, the American workforce can expect to see more part-time jobs.
Finally, I think the American workforce can expect to see fewer administrative support jobs. Many workers will have successfully worked remotely for two months or more, largely without administrative support, making the continued justification for support staff less tenable.
What are the negatives of this going forward for the workforce?
Joy: Age discrimination will likely reach a new high. Did you see the Saturday Night Live skit in which older employees cannot figure out how to work Zoom?
That mindset is in line with the popular perception that older employees are unable to adapt to new technologies and with a new, more remote workforce, older employees will be passed over for jobs.
Companies will disappear. Many establishments were unprepared for the massive financial impact of an epidemic or did not spend the money investing in remote work tools soon enough, and they will be out of business.
Speaking of disappearing, the eight-hour workday will largely disappear as well. Remote work means that there is no boss looking over an employee’s shoulder to see if they are in their seat from 8:00am to 5:00pm. This could have a negative impact on employees who do not set clear boundaries between work and personal life, though. If employees set a precedent of always being signed on or able to sign on and respond to work emails, quality of life could decline.
What are the positives of this going forward for the workforce?
Joy: Many workplaces have had the capability for most workers to work full-time remotely for many years now, there has just never been the occasion for largescale implementation of full-time remote work. One positive to have resulted from this pandemic is that many workers are now aware that they are capable of working just the same from anywhere in the world. And, companies that were not completely prepared for full-time remote work have made large strides towards that end in a short period of time. This will, hopefully, ultimately result in a happier workforce. Before the pandemic, a majority of employees reported they would like more freedom to work from home. Over a third of employees also reported that they would forego a raise in order to be permitted to work from home. Employees will hopefully now be given what they want—remote work—and be happier for it.
With remote work comes greater freedom and less opportunity for micromanagement. Greater employee freedom can lead to workplace innovation. Hopefully, one positive result of the pandemic will be greater creativity and innovation across the board. We have already seen this borne out due to financial necessity—restaurants converting into markets; breweries converting into hand sanitizer manufacturers; engineering firms making ventilators out of breast pumps; etc. Hopefully, this trend will continue, and American companies will continue to surprise us with new products and services going forward.
Hopefully, another positive to come out of all of this is paid sick leave. Many states have no requirement to provide paid sick leave and accordingly, the majority of American workers admit that they have come into work sick. Now that employers have experience implementing paid sick leave due to the FFCRA, and now that there is a renewed interest in keeping sick employees at home, hopefully, paid sick leave will be here to stay. We may even see a surge in unlimited sick leave.
We have much to think about at this point.
How will the workplace landscape look in the future? How can we be more proactive in planning for the future not only for our work-life but our home life as well?
I think it is important to take comfort in the fact that we are all in this together, and together we will rise to the occasion and continue to make our organizations a great place to work.