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Telecommuting in Normal Times vs. During a Pandemic

Woman telecommuting during pandemic

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Cheril Clarke in Uncategorised

There hasn’t been a moment in recent history where telecommuting and flexible work arrangements have been rolled out more swiftly than now—March 2020—amid the coronavirus global pandemic. While many employees have had experiences working from home or other forms of remote work, for a large number of staffers, this approach to getting things done is new. Decades of study have shown there are numerous benefits to telecommuting. However, there are several things to watch out for to ensure optimal productivity and employee engagement. In this blog, we will discuss some of those pros and cons.

Less Family and Work Conflict for Workers

Definitely a pro. In normal times, an immediate benefit of telecommuting is the reduced stress on workers’ ability to manage the demands of work and family. Whether it is tending to a sick child or parent or trying to rush home to make it to important family activities (e.g., a soccer game), many employees feel constant pressure to choose work over everything (or neglect work in favor of family). Allowing staffers the flexibility to telecommute can lower anxiety and ease this friction. Remote working options can boost morale and lessen the feeling that employees have to sacrifice their family time in order to provide for them.

Speaking of family, employers are often concerned about distractions from home becoming an issue with productivity. This uneasiness isn’t without warrant. We all remember this infamous little girl in the yellow sweater who sauntered into her father’s home office in 2017. If not, here’s a refresher:

This, however, is atypical and easily fixed by creating and often reminding employees of telecommuting best practices (lock your door when on video conferences, for one). Another concern managers usually have is a dip in productivity, but the output is easily measurable. All in all, the pros seem to far outweigh the perceived cons. Either the work is getting done, or it isn’t. Determining which staffers need a bit more oversight might be accomplished quicker with digital monitoring.

A Different Kind of Interruption

As noted in the adorable video above, while remote employees don’t have to worry about co-workers interrupting them, they do have to worry about disruption. That can come from spouses, kids, pets, and outside noise (landscapers with loud leaf blowers who come every other week but were never noticed before). Employees have to be more vigilant in guarding their time at home, especially those doing the double duty of homeschooling while telecommuting—this kind of telecommuting is uncharted territory for many, and employers must exercise patience, flexibility, and empathy.

A few tips for employees juggling children, spouses, and work can include:

  1. Working together as a family to set schedules and boundaries for non-urgent interruptions.
  2. Getting dressed for work every day and avoiding the temptation to go through your day in pajamas. The latter seems to feel less like work and equals less productivity.
  3. If you have extra space, avoid working in your bedroom. If you have a smaller space, work with your back to the TV, and avoid turning it on.
  4. Disable social media notifications for blocks of a specified time.
  5. Clean up more. As there is no after-hours janitor, you’ll be surprised at how much quicker a mess can pile up.
  6. Allow your children to stay bored long enough to create or invent something new to entertain or educate themselves. Many of us normally live in a state of perpetual scheduling with not enough downtime to just be, think, or create.

Last week, many were in offices, working normal shifts while watching the news to see what would happen next. This week, they are at home, living the news and trying to figure out how to adapt to a new normal. The first few days, if not a full week, will be challenging. Employers and employees alike must understand the level of challenge this poses for both sides.

It’s hard to focus with breaking news every hour, restless children, and for some, not enough space for everyone in the house to not feel crowded in thought and space. Admit it. Accept it. Adapt to it. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Consider working in staggered shifts of less than four hours, if possible. Break it up for peace of mind, exercise, and sanity. The structured 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. rarely works as designed in telecommuting situations. The new normal of telecommuting while homeschooling for many is fluid, which brings us back to another benefit of having this as a work option:

Greater Access to Employment for the Disabled

For employees who are disabled, telecommuting is an enormous benefit and should be championed as a standard option. It can also improve retention for someone who was not disabled when hired but suffers from an illness or accident that brings on a disability. In this case, it is the right thing to do. Telecommuting opens the doors to individuals with special physical needs certain workplaces don’t accommodate. This is undoubtedly another pro.

Retention

Whether in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic or a company reorganization, the permission of telecommuting allows businesses to reduce employee turnover. This keeps employees happy. It also reduces employer expenses related to recruiting and training new staff. It is a win-win. Also, an employee with a work-from-home option is probably less likely to quit—it is a benefit they are unwilling to give up to return to the status quo (especially for departments like corporate communications with writers who rarely have client-facing tasks).

There are instances where telecommuting is harder for employees, particularly those who thrive on social interaction.

The Effects of Isolation

In 2008, a study by Golden, Veiga, and Dino noted cases where productivity in the workplace decreased due to employees feeling isolated professionally. As an in-person work setting goes, not everything works for everyone, so thoughtfulness must still be applied for the unique emotional needs of workers. Thankfully, there are many more options for face-to-face meetings in 2020 than there were in 2008. In normal circumstances (not a public health crisis), employees can be offered a swing or rotating telecommute option, where they are in the office one week and at home the next. While mandated to work from home for the greater good, however, staffers and employers must work more flexibly.

During breaks or downtime, employees should consider searching for more tips on time management, homeschooling, and of course, communication. Here at PhenomenalWriting.com and PhenomenalSpeeches.com, we work diligently with executive leadership teams and entrepreneurs on ways to best communicate with their staff and customers, whether it is tips on hosting a town hall or offering ideas on how to repurpose speeches and other communications content. We are also a fully virtual team, with writers and graphic designers posted in different states and across time zones. We serve clients worldwide and offer them the flexibility to be accessible from almost anywhere.

The year 2020 is one unlike any of us have seen in our lifetime, and we’re only three months in. We are in an era that employers and employees have never experienced: massive travel restrictions, national border closings, school, city, and industry physical lockdowns, but life must go on. Essential commerce must proceed. Telecommuting is spiking because it must. Our livelihoods depend on it. So, as many of us are thrust into uncharted waters, it is important to remember the psychological benefits and the possible challenges of remote work. Thoughtful roll outs and proper implementations are key to making telecommuting work as best it can. For instances where a lot of time wasn’t available to plan ahead, the full support of management to modify and improve processes for better efficiency is critical to effectiveness. Telecommuting, where it can work, must work.

Because our team at Phenomenal Writing hasn’t lost any time, and our commitment to delivering high-quality work hasn’t changed, we are here for you, should you need assistance with an executive or corporate communication needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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