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The emergence of COVID-19, for many of us, will go down as one of the most impactful events to have happened over the course of our lives. From stay-at-home orders to virtual classrooms, it goes without saying that this global novel Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way in which we live, both as individuals and as a society. Some of these changes, however, may last longer than we expect.
With the outbreak of the Coronavirus forcing widespread lockdowns around the world, employers have been forced to close down their workplaces due to safety concerns, along with the effects of the economic downturn caused by widespread business closures during mandated government lockdowns. But with the technology that we have today, many employers have resorted to remote working as a substitute. Instead of waking up early, getting dressed, grabbing a coffee, and heading to work, many people now find themselves not even getting up from their beds. They simply grab their laptops from their bedsides and get to work. Although you might think that employers are pushing to return to the workplace as soon as possible, this is not exactly the case. The switch to remote working has revealed numerous benefits to employers. For instance, by enforcing remote working, the emphasis on running shiny new offices and implementation of state-of-the-art technology is no longer needed. Instead, employers can simply supply their employees with what they need in terms of technology in order for their employees to efficiently work from home.
As a result, an increasing number of workplaces have gone virtual. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, half of Facebook’s employees will be working remotely in the next five to ten years. Many other companies such as Twitter, Square, and Shopify have followed this model, and they are also planning to implement permanent work-from-home policies. Perhaps this is the beginning of an entire workplace revolution, with permanent remote working practices becoming the new norm.
But is working from home really the ideal way to go about an ideal future of work?
While remote learning in schools does come with some benefits, there are a myriad of problems for adults working from home that must be addressed before the shift to remote working becomes permanent.
One of the most glaring issues that arise with remote working is productivity pitfalls. Staying on an online-conferencing tool like Zoom all day is bound to be exhausting for many. Having to remain in the comfort of our homes certainly does not help. “Staring at a computer screen for four hours straight is not pleasant,” Tim Wang ‘21 said. Without a professional environment to remind us of our obligations, many adults may find themselves browsing through Youtube or scrolling through Instagram instead of working.
The ability to stay on task “requires very strong work ethics, self-discipline, good organizational skills, and the ability to be an independent and self-sufficient person,” said Bronx Science calculus teacher Mr. Fomin. “Especially for young people who are still in the process of acquiring those qualities, it creates more pressure and makes it harder for others to spot troubling signs in time and provide much-needed assistance.” Indeed, younger employees, who require in-person work training in order to develop essential skills such as productivity, are stripped of these experiences in the world of remote-working.
In addition to the lack of tools needed for greater productivity, employees, especially those who are younger, may not fully develop the social skills that need in order to be successful. Excessive online communication negates the ability to establish social and professional bonds in person. The key to effective work is collaboration, and if employees are unable to form the relationships needed for such efforts, we can expect decreases in productivity levels.
For some, staying at home in near isolation as a means of combatting the spread of COVID-19 may also give rise mental health complications. For some, the lack of in-person social interactions at the office may elicit feelings of loneliness. “The main disadvantage of remote working in the teaching profession is the absence of direct human contact. I hadn’t realized before how important it is to see immediate human reactions – a facial expression, eye contact, intonations of student’s voice, hesitation, enthusiastic response, or just a smile,” said Mr. Fomin.
Perhaps the biggest problem with enforcing permanent remote-working policies is the lack of widespread access to the Internet across the United States of America. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 21 million Americans lacked Broadband Internet in 2017, while an analysis by Microsoft puts that number at 162 million in 2019. Even in America, the richest country in the world, where one would think that most people would have easy access to the internet, it appears that 19% of rural residents currently do not possess the high-speed internet required to effectively work online. While employers could supply their employees with what is needed to some extent, there comes a point where the cost of this service may be too high for the employer to bear. Due to these limitations, we should not be so quick to establish remote-working as the new norm, seeing as in scenarios like these, in-person work would be much more efficient for both the employer and the employees.
Although remote working has some benefits, it also comes with many complications. Thus, with all things taken into consideration, employers may need to rethink switching to permanent remote working policies. Instead, employers should measure the pros and cons of remote working in their respective fields and make a good judgment based on this.
To see a comprehensive guide highlighting information about the digital divide and the effects on vulnerable populations, put together by Allconnect: The Digital Divide, click HERE.
Excessive online communication negates the ability to establish social and professional bonds in person.