If my work-from home experience during the coronavirus pandemic is any indication of what others have endured, then the past eight months have been bittersweet.
On the downside, I was furloughed from two of three steady clients – scrambling to find other work. I also was forced to manage remote learning for my kiddos, both of whom were in elementary school in the waning months of the 2019-2020 school year and struggled to work independently.
But there also was an upside. I was able to jump-start my book ghostwriting service, which was dormant for eight years, proving once and for all that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. If not for COVID-19, then I probably would have keep dreaming about ghosting more business books and memoirs. I also was able to spend more quality time with my kids and significant other, as well as catch up with old friends.
All the research seems to suggest that I’m not alone in experiencing these lows and highs. Just 14% of the U.S. labor force worked from home prior to sheltering-in-place orders and business closures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but then there was a huge spike. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, for instance, recently estimated that nearly half of the workforce is remote.
As the old adage goes, sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. WFH arrangements went from coveted perk to annoyance in a mere few months, adding nearly an extra day to a typical work week or 26 hours a month, according to Owl Labs, a video conferencing technology company. So much for the convenience of compressed workweeks! They’re now actually expanding. The new normal has erased any line of demarcation between work and life, which has proven to be a double-edge sword.
Frank Weishaupt, the company’s CEO, surmises that WFH newbies probably logged more hours trying to attain a certain comfort level, not to mention juggling more meetings than usual and having children at home. With regard to that last point, Owl Labs noted that employees appreciated being able to spend more time with their families. They also were relieved to avoid work commutes.
Still, these adjustments are having a huge impact on the psyche of American workers in terms of stress and worry. For example, a Martec Group survey noted a significant decline in mental health across all industries, levels of seniority and demographics. The same was true with respect to job and company satisfaction, as well as job motivation.
As many as 91% of respondents to a survey by mental health benefits platform Ginger reported moderate to extreme stress while working from home during the pandemic. Owl Labs also found that nearly half of employees fret that staying remote could hurt their career. Other research indicates that people miss pre-COVID workplace camaraderie and feel lonely.
Once a vaccine is made available and we’re able to return to pre-pandemic life, I fear that the financial, physical, emotional and spiritual toll will be enormous. But the silver lining for businesses is that we now know that WFH is not only feasible on a massive scale, it also results in operational efficiencies and better work-life balance. I believe that a restoration of normalcy will accent the positive traits of these arrangements and WFH will again be viewed as highly valuable. The lesson for management and employees is the same: It’s important to be flexible and nimble through any substantive change.