It’s obvious–there are many, many jobs that simply can’t be done remotely. Service industries, health, hospitality, agriculture–the list goes on. It’s certainly a privilege, especially during social distancing, to be able to have a job that can functionally be done from our living rooms. While many people don’t have this luxury, a lot of us do. In the last five years, remote work grew by 44%. In short, even after coronavirus procedures end, remote work won’t. In fact, I think it will be the new normal in just a few years.
At my internship last summer, I was shocked at how common remote working really was. I had expected it to be looked down upon, like employees were taking a poorly-hidden personal day, but in fact it was surprisingly normal. And today, at my now fully-remote internship, I realize how significant the ability to work remotely really is.
It’s important to note that one of the best arguments in favor of remote work is accessibility and inclusivity. A person with a physical disability can get their work done without the daily added stress of a crowded city commute, for example. A person recovering from an injury can continue to draw an income without added physical pressure of getting to and from the office every day. People with chronic illnesses can manage the unpredictability of their illness without having to worry about missing too much work. But perhaps most significantly, millions of parents (and particularly moms) can juggle the stresses of parenthood and work more effectively. Parents can stay home with a sick child or take a longer parental leave to bond with a new baby while still drawing a full income. Working remotely would balance out many of the disparities of traditional workplaces, allowing more diverse teams to work effectively without the stress of getting to and staying at an office all day.
Now for the slightly anti-capitalist portion of this article: working remotely allows us to cut out some of the B.S. of office jobs and focus on what actually matters. In 1916, when the eight-hour work day was established, it could take that full eight hours to accomplish what a single worker today can accomplish in 20 minutes. There just isn’t a real reason to mandate eight-hour workdays in 2020 when our productivity is astronomically higher than it was 104 years ago, thanks to computers, cell phones and the Internet.
Remote working has the potential to help phase out this eight-hour model. Without someone ensuring that you are physically in an office from 9 AM to 5 PM, you can get the necessary work done in peace and be judged simply on your results. Not only will this encourage more efficiency and better work, but it will ensure workers a fairer financial return on their increased productivity.
Perhaps most significantly of all remote-work arguments are the health and wellness benefits for workers. Americans are exhausted, overworked and overstressed. Much of that is due to the monotonous and stressful nature of commutes, workplace squabbles, bagged lunches and not enough time or energy for exercise. Remote work could be the key to solving many of these problems. By working from home, people could have the time and energy to cook better food, spend more time outdoors or spend more quality time with family and friends. The reduction of the time it takes to get ready for and commute to work each day would allow workers to get more sleep. Fewer commuters would mean less pollution and better air quality. It’s hard to overstate how much working remotely even a few times a week would reduce our stress levels and give us more time for pursuits outside of work.
The perhaps singular upside of COVID-19 is how it will prove to so many companies that their employees’ work can be done efficiently from home. I hope that we start to realize the numerous benefits of remote work and how they promote a better work-life balance, greater inclusivity and improved health for employees and their families.