The acceleration of vaccinations for COVID-19 means — we hope — that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will soon lessen.
It means that many workers may not have to work remotely any longer. But what if they want to do so?
Or what if employees are eager to return to an office setting, but their employers aren’t?
Such is the “new normal” that is still evolving pertaining to the pandemic.
Last March, when businesses, schools and other employers were shutting down, things were understandably hectic and stressful. But now, close to a year later, it appears employers and their employees have adjusted successfully and that the new arrangements are being well-received on both sides.
That’s “a true testament to the power of human ingenuity and adaptability,” wrote Brent Orrell and Matthew Leger, both with the American Enterprise Institute, in a recent essay. But the significant tradeoffs for both employers and employees shouldn’t be ignored.
Their research indicates that employers are realizing gains in operational cost savings, talent recruitment, operational resilience and lower levels of environmental effects.
On the other hand, businesses also recognize that a dispersed workforce can make it harder to establish and maintain organizational culture, may create perceptions of unfairness for non-remote remote workers, and increases cybersecurity risks, they wrote. The wide variation in job responsibilities within organizations and differing worker preferences also makes it challenging for employers to craft a single policy that fits their entire workforce.
What about employees? They appear to gain from improved job and life satisfaction, and increased time for family and recreation. As with employers, workers also save money on commuting and other work-related expenses. They report greater autonomy and flexibility in their schedules and in creating personally tailored work environments.
But there’s a flip side here, too. Remote work can erode the boundaries between work and life, increase a sense of social isolation, and slow career advancement opportunities, especially for new hires. Perhaps the greatest concern is the loss of regular, informal conversations that support work-flow and innovation, the two wrote.
From our perspective, it’s become clear that remote work can be something to be embraced, and that it can be extremely beneficial in creating a workplace and economy that is resilient and efficient.
Yet finding the right balance that maximizes the benefits of remote work and minimizes the downsides will require thoughtful attention to these tradeoffs, as well as a great deal of experimentation. That’s still to come, meaning the impact of the pandemic will continue — but in different ways that initially.