Telework: An Overnight Change Two Decades in the Making
By Denise Starling, executive director, Livable Buckhead
Remember that week in March when the world seemed to change overnight? Sports leagues suspended their seasons, schools sent students to learn at home, and offices everywhere went virtual. Almost six months later many businesses continue to operate remotely, opting to keep some – or all – of their employees based at home for the foreseeable future.
While the move to a work-from-home world seemed to happen overnight, in metro Atlanta that change had been in the works for nearly two decades. Since 2003, a network of organizations across the region has worked with businesses to create effective telework programs that help reduce traffic and improve air quality. We have helped craft workplace policies that increase teleworker productivity and boost morale, demonstrating that telework can be a true win-win solution for employers and employees.
Telework has been one of the fastest-growing commute alternatives, with companies embracing the benefits of both occasional and full-time remote work arrangements. In a June 2020 survey, 59% of employers reported working from home as an option that was available for at least some of their employees prior to COVID-19.
One of the key selling points of telework has always been that it allows businesses to continue operating even if employees cannot travel to the office. Prior to COVID-19, the biggest test of telework as a business continuity strategy came during “snowpocalypse” when icy roads kept thousands of workers at home for several days. Businesses that had invested in remote work programs immediately realized their value as their operations continued uninterrupted.
Few of us could have imagined being stuck at home for months, but the beauty of formalized telework programs is that they can support employees working from home as little or as much as the circumstances require. And in this pandemic telework has been critical to keeping businesses going. In fact, 94% of employers surveyed said that remote work was mainly or partially responsible for their continued operations. That survey also revealed that managers who had prior experience managing remote employees were significantly more likely to have adequate levels of communication with their staff and to be aware of what work is being done during COVID-19.
So what’s next for telework? As long as COVID-19 is a factor, businesses will benefit from maintaining flexible work arrangements. Returning to the office doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing proposition and telework is perfectly suited to keeping business operating in a constantly shifting environment. Executives seem inclined to agree and anticipate that the shift to telework will be long-lasting, with 69% of them reporting that more employees will work from home periodically in the future.
As we near the six-month mark of a largely remote workforce, now is a good time for employers to assess the state of telework within their businesses. Formalizing a telework program can reduce the negative effects of a distributed workforce and lock in its benefits. Numerous resources are available online, and Livable Buckhead and other organizations across the region can help create customized plans for businesses that want to make the most of this telework opportunity.
It’s also a good time for remote employees to take stock of the habits that they have fallen into while working from home. Small adjustments to home office arrangements and daily routines can pay big dividends in terms of increased productivity and creativity. Livable Buckhead is supporting a better work-from-home approach through the Better Habits, Better You Challenge. Over the course of four weeks participants will get professional cooking lessons and fitness instruction via Zoom and will be incentivized to take small daily actions to improve their sustainability and productivity at home. It’s a fun way to make sure that working from home really works.
We’re all looking forward to the day when life returns to some semblance of what it was before COVID-19, but for many that new normal will include a lot more teleworking – and that’s good for all of us.
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