Reporter cartoon, Frank Shiers

Reporter cartoon, Frank Shiers

Coronavirus testing telecommuting effectiveness

Employers offering a work from home option has grown by 40 percent in the past 5 years

Nobody knows how deep the impact of the coronavirus will be, but one thing that it is destined to test is how effectively people will work from home.

Washington is at the point of the spear. Of the 29 U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19, there were 22 in our state as of Tuesday. To avoid further exposure, employers are encouraging telecommuting, canceling meetings, events and travel, and, taking extra caution to sanitize work locations.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is among the carriers taking additional measures to sanitize aircraft between flights. Still, the latest estimate is the airlines have lost $113 billion and are canceling flights to China, South Korea and Italy to deal with a drop-off in passengers and to avoid the risk of exposure.

Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are asking Seattle-based staff to work from home in March. Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, halted international travel for two weeks.

The University of Washington temporarily canceled in-person classes. Its 50,000 students will take their courses (including exams) remotely until the current quarter ends on March 20. Meanwhile, crews will be deep cleaning classrooms, auditoriums, libraries and other public spaces.

The Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) studied telecommuting 20 years ago. It was supposed to be the next great workforce development, which would allow employees to perform vital business functions from the comfort of home, and allow employers to enhance productivity and work/life balance, improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and cut costs on office space.

At the time, the biggest barrier was resistance by middle management, wrote Charles Grantham, president of the Institute for the Study of Distributed Work. Their “surveillance-type” of management style was the challenge.

However, the number of U.S. workers who telecommute has risen 115 percent since 2005, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report. Before the coronavirus hit, 3.7 million workers – roughly 2.8 percent of the workforce – telecommuted.

That figure is growing as the tight talent market pushes more employers to adopt flexible working arrangements to accommodate the scheduling needs of hard-to-find-and-keep employees.

Overall, the number of employers offering a work from home option has grown by 40 percent in the past five years. Two-thirds of managers who offer telecommuting flexibility report those employees are more productive.

Global Workplace Analytics did a costs and benefits analysis and found some barriers to allowing work from home. One is management mistrust. Three-of-four in management say they trust those they manage; however, a third said they want to see them just to be sure.

Overcoming jealousy among other workers who either were not allowed to work at home or have the impression the telecommuters are not doing their share can be corrosive in the office.

Telecommuters must be self-directed and comfortable with technology and arrangements for remote tech support. They need a defined home office space and understand that telecommuting is not a suitable replacement for daycare unless they can schedule work hours around their children’s needs.

Those working at home need access to company systems, software and data. Companies need to address remote technical support issues and insure remote workers are included in the latest upgrades.

GWA found that in some instances employment law and local zone problems are thorny problems. For example, when accidents occurs in the homes of teleworkers how does employer liability apply?

Finally, keeping those working at home included as an integral part of the team is an important priority. Managers must make sure they are invited to office events, key meetings and social occurrences.

The bottom line is when we finally get a handle on this outbreak, there will be lots of lessons learned thanks to COVID-19.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kentreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

How using a face mask to cover my Asian face could put me in danger

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted.

Opinion: Public deserves honest information on sex education

The Washington comprehensive sex education bill passed in the Senate on March 7.

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo
Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

Coronavirus testing telecommuting effectiveness

Employers offering a work from home option has grown by 40 percent in the past 5 years

Legislative session ends with plenty of hits and misses

OLYMPIA — The 2020 regular legislative session is coming to a close.… Continue reading

As the deadline nears, state lawmakers face a few challenges

As state lawmakers in Olympia enter the final turn of the 2020… Continue reading

Brunell’s treatise on Lower Snake River dams is flooded with falsehoods

Don Brunell’s recent column, “Dams are the Northwest’s Flood Busters” (Jan. 24,… Continue reading

This Boeing deal could have ‘clawbacks’ in the ‘snap-back’

The company wants a tax break temporarily repealed. Some don’t want to give it back without new conditions.

The state has too much money and it’s a problem

With revenues rising, budget writers are going to get lots of requests on how to spend it

Recognition and thanks – not abuse – needed for high school officials

By Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director While the behavior of parents… Continue reading

Marilyn Lauderdale. COURTESY PHOTO
Let’s protect jobs and tend to our environment

Working together is the way we are going to find solutions that benefit the climate and companies

A tribute to Libby Seidel: a dedicated Kent volunteer

Kent lost a kind, generous soul last month with the passing of… Continue reading