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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Case for Letting People Work From Home Forever

In 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost 70 percent of full-time employees worked from home. Many employers that perhaps may never have considered offering a remote work option adapted to the necessity. Today, as businesses consider their return-to-office plans, they would do well for themselves and for their employees to continue to offer remote work arrangements for individuals who prefer them.

Several years ago, I quit my corporate job to stay home full time with my children. I never planned to be a stay-at-home parent. But my second child was born with multiple disabilities, and as he grew so did his list of doctor and therapy appointments. I had difficulty managing my son’s needs and keeping up with the more than 40 hours each week I needed to spend in the office.

When I resigned, I put more than a decade of education and professional experience to the side. I reluctantly pulled my children out of the onsite corporate day care they attended from the time they were a couple of months old. I focused solely on my family—time I don’t regret. But a remote work arrangement would have made it easier for me to support my family and continue with my career.

No Commute Means Happier Employees

Regardless of your job or where you live, a commute to the office can take up large portions of the day. The average American commute in 2019 was 27 minutes each way, which adds up to approximately 200 hours per year for a full-time employee. Aside from the actual commute, getting out of the house at a specific time in the morning in an effort to avoid traffic can be stressful. Instead of worrying about rushing to the office on time or needing to leave early for personal obligations, employees are more productive when they work remotely, have fewer sick days, and take less time off.

Working parents also need to consider where their childcare is in relation to their offices. My former employer’s on-site day care made it easy to get to my children quickly when they didn’t feel well or had a problem, but for many people, that is not an option. And while having them close to my office was useful, our ride home was often stressful because my children were tired or hungry or both (and so was I).

When children are older and attend school, a remote work arrangement keeps parents in close proximity for school events or to pick up a child that doesn’t feel well. When parents are more easily available for their children, they are better able to focus at work and remain productive.

Remote Work Lets People Connect Anywhere

Today’s technology makes it easy to work from anywhere. With a remote work option, individuals can fit important life events into their day, like attending health care appointments. When employees have the flexibility to take care of personal obligations, they are happier and more productive.

A flexible work location is especially helpful for parents because they can spend more time with their children than those that spend a full day in the office. They can be available for school drop off or pick up, or pop out for a school performance or sporting event.

My son has had several extended hospital stays in which I spent many hours waiting around. A remote work arrangement would have given me the flexibility to be with my son and still stay connected to my job. I could have easily worked on a spreadsheet or returned emails while I was in the waiting room or while he was resting.

Remote Work Gives Us Control Over Our Calendars

A remote work option could have given me flexibility to plan my day around work meetings, my assignments, and my family obligations. Even on days when I didn’t have an appointment, working from home makes it easy to throw in a load of laundry or start dinner, which would have made the transition smoother when my workday was over.

People are productive during different times of the day. As long as core working hours are met so meetings and other collaboration can take place, flexible hours accommodate everyone, especially as companies become more global. Some people are the most energized when they first wake up. Others may be more productive in the afternoon and evening. Finding a balance that suits people’s individuality and home demands makes them happier and more productive employees.

No More Mandatory ‘Fun’

Working in an office requires social niceties. We chat when we ask a colleague for information. We discuss our weekend events as we head to a meeting with our team. Our workday can be enhanced by friends we make at the office. But some of those discussions can be time-consuming and difficult to avoid when we are trying to be productive.

With fewer social interruptions and less office politics like lunchtime cliques and water cooler conversations, employees are better able to focus on their work. When people can get their work done sooner, they can spend their after hours time socializing with people they prefer to spend time with, not the ones they feel they have to spend time with.

Remote Work Helps with Social Anxiety

Extroverts are outgoing and often thrive in social settings, whereas introverts may be intimidated by in-person get-togethers and do better behind a screen. There is less small talk and more direct communication in Zoom meetings, making it easier to get to the point and accomplish set goals. Team members who take time to help others rather than relying on their personality to succeed may do better with virtual work. With decreased anxiety, more people can step up and share ideas, which is a win for both the employee and the company.

‘Open Space’ Layouts Are Noisy and Distracting

Most offices have open floorplans where employees work close together with little to no barriers or walls between them. They do have some benefits, like the ease of collaboration among employees as well as access to more daylight. However, open spaces can make productivity difficult. Noisy neighbors can be distracting and prohibit employees from getting into flow. A remote work arrangement, by default, has less interruptions, more time to focus, and a quieter work environment.

Open spaces also make midday personal obligations more difficult. An important phone call from a doctor or school administrator can be easily managed from home, whereas stepping away to take a two-minute phone call can seem like a big disruption for multiple people in an open space environment, and taking a private call at your desk is awkward, as anyone who’s done so can attest.

For many people, working a 9 to 5 job in an office works best for them. And those options should remain available to those who prefer the routine. But for me, a quieter work environment, better control over my calendar, no commute, and easy access to care for my children’s needs would have given me a greater chance at managing my obligations at home while still advancing my career. After a year where many of us worked from home to find that productivity has improved, businesses should continue to offer remote work arrangements to best support their employees.

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