The following is another article by regular contributor, Kosmo.
In March of 2020, COVID-19 started having a big impact on the United States. More than eighteen months have passed and life still isn’t back to normal. Many of us have been vaccinated, but millions have not. The delta variant overwhelmed hospitals in many areas, and nobody knows whether another surge will hit us during the winter months. Many of us know somehow who has died of COVID. Most people know someone who is suffering from “long haul” effects. We’ve managed to keep COVID out of our home to this point. Three of us are vaccinated, and my eleven-year-old will be getting his shot when he becomes eligible.
Out of necessity, many jobs pivoted to remote work during COVID. This wasn’t possible for every job. Grocery store cashiers and brain surgeons, among many others, must be on-site to do their jobs – there simply isn’t a remote option. Many other jobs, however, can be done remotely. In the past several months, companies have begun to implement their “new normal” plans, which has typically meant employees returning to the office in some manner.
What’s the new normal?
That’s a hard question. Some companies developed a comprehensive strategy, while others are charting a path as they go. Many companies see remote work as a way to reach a larger applicant pool. This can be a big benefit if you’re seeking an employee who has skills that are hard to find in your home market.
There’s no perfect answer to the question of whether people are more or less productive at home or in the office. I recently had a friend comment that if they were working from home, they’d be constantly distracted by the television. After they mentioned this, I took a closer look at my desk setup. I realized that I’d have to look over my shoulder to even see the television. I sit facing a wall, in front of three monitors. Staying immersed in my work is typically not a problem. There is one caveat to that, however. When my kids are at home, they can definitely be a distraction – especially if they are fighting. Now that they are back in school, I’m able to focus a bit better. Certainly, I can focus easier than I can in the office.
I’ve had three employers since college, and each of them is handling the situation a bit differently. Note that I am in IT, so your experience may be very different.
Previous employer #1
This company is a huge financial services company that dominates its market segment. They are hedging their bets a bit. Some teams are almost never in the office, while others are frequently in the office. For employees who are working almost exclusively remote, there is the expectation that they are on-site for certain activities. Some employees moved a significant distance from their home office during COVID. When they return to the office for these activities, it will be completely at their expense – the company will not reimburse them. I think this company is waiting for more of the dominoes to fall into place before committing to a long-term plan.
Previous employer #2
This company is a large financial services company. It’s fairly well known, but not as much of a household name as the previous company. I was working here at the onset of COVID. They were actually quicker to respond than a lot of companies. We were told to switch to remote work 1-2 weeks before most other companies in the area. As far as I know, there was zero spread of COVID in my large office building and there was minimal disruption to the business at hand.
This company has also had the most flexible response to remote working. Employees are being given the option to choose fully in the office, fully remote, or hybrid. These choices are academic for the moment, however. Nobody is actually being allowed to work from the building until at least the end of 2021.
The one downside is that I had about $15 in my cafeteria account when COVID hit, and I don’t have any way to recoup that, unless I eat at another cafeteria that’s managed by the same group.
This company is a mid-size company in the food industry. Prior to COVID, the company had rarely allowed any work from home. I negotiated a 60% work from home when I was hired, letting the hiring manager know up front that it was a deal-breaker. It’s a hundred-mile round trip, and I had some leverage in negotiations, so I used the leverage. I began coming into the office regularly (two days per week) about three months ago. My 60% agreement has become the standard for my entire team. I’m not completely sure that I’m the reason why the team is enjoying this arrangement, but some of my coworkers seem to think so. One of my coworkers thanked me to pushing for 60%. Most people on the team are in the office on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. I opted for Tuesday and Wednesday, so that I have the ability to interact with all members of the team on a regular basis.
[Editor’s Note: Before COVID, my wife did a similar schedule and she sometimes stayed overnight at an AirBnb. It cost a little money, but it gave her back nearly four hours of her life.]
My employer is also going through a growth phase and is trying to grow the IT department. They’re often at a bit of a disadvantage due to geography. The company’s headquarters are in a very small city, and it’s about an hour from any of the larger cities that constitute the labor pool for the skills they are looking for. It’s a nice enough place, but it’s not exactly a magnet for employees. Allowing WFH flexibility was probably a necessity to pull in some of that talent – COVID simply expedited the timeline. I’m glad to see the company become more accepting of work from home – not just because it benefits me personally, but because I do think that it will result in a stronger team in the future.
My wife is employed in the financial services area of a large medical facility. She went back into the office the same time I did. The difference is that they’re now in the office 100% of the time, even though her group proved themselves to be very effective working from home.
How is your employer approaching work from home arrangements? What is your “new normal”?
[Lazy Man here, I’ll answer first. We are still in the old normal. My wife won’t go back until at least the start of 2022. I have been working from home for more than a decade. The difference for me is that working from home doesn’t make me “cool” or “special” anymore.]