6 How Working from Home Will Impact the Post Pandemic Workforce

Luke Mowery

COVID-19 has greatly impacted our society. Never before in Human history has all of mankind been affected by something so enormous and deadly during “a time of peace”.

Introduction

At the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit full swing. The disease originated in Wuhan, China and has since engulfed the entire globe. As of November 30, 2020 there have been over 12 million positive cases for Coronavirus in the United States alone, with the national death toll reaching nearly 256,000. Worldwide there have been over 59 million cases with 1.4 million resulting in death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). In early spring of 2020, almost all schools, colleges and universities closed and many businesses converted to online learning and work for the next several months. This was largely due to the growing number of people testing positive in the United States and parts of the country shutting down as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to work from home. Not only has working from home been a historic event of its own, but it may remain after the COVID-19 pandemic is gone. With large numbers of people now working at home, the socialization part of work has drastically been affected. The workforce has become more reliant on technology, especially with internet speed and connection. Those who now work at home can feel isolated, alone, bored, an absence of teamwork with coworkers, a lack of communication, as well as more freedom, flexibility, and an ability to manage their own lives and meet personal preferences.

Connection to STS Theory

This chapter relates to several STS theories. Most notably are Social Constructivism and Tragedy of the Commons. Social Constructivism has never been tested in such a way as it has right now. Social Constructivism is how people use human interaction, feelings, and difference of opinion to learn and form ideas (Berkeley Graduate Division). The working atmosphere is one that deals directly with Social Constructivism. People use the social aspect to not only socialize with their coworkers, but also to help foster their imagination and constructive mindset. Tragedy of the Commons is when humanity and technology do not work hand-in-hand. Tragedy of the Commons is seen where people go against the collaborative good and focus on self interest. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven the opposite. People have been coming together from all across the world to not only help find a cure for this disease, but to also to help other people adjust to living with COVID-19 and maintain a functioning and working lifestyle through the pandemic.

How Things Have Changed

The workforce has never experienced such an enormous percentage of people working from home. During the pandemic, businesses across all platforms have had to adjust and restructure their formats to accommodate all of the workers working at home. Since the beginning of the closure of offices and schools, people have had to adjust to working online from home. Working from home is not a new concept in itself. More and more people have been working from home over the past few years (Labor Statistics). Companies had to adjust not only to having their workforce work from home but also how to be able to communicate with their employees easily. Today, there are several ways that businesses can still communicate with their employees. What most people have done is use some format of an online meeting software. Whether it be Zoom, Skype, or some other format that gives the option of allowing employers and employees to communicate easily and be able to share information in real time without having to wait to go back in person or having to wait for information to be sent through the mail (VOIP Review).

This picture shows how people worked together in person before the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a struggle for many to adjust to having to be away from your peers when trying to collaborate with them.

With the workforce being pushed online, new problems, or the expansion of old problems have risen. Not only has it been a struggle for people to adjust to having to work from home, but also the fact that many do not have access to high speed internet connections that would allow them to work from home. As of 2017, a quarter of Americans did not have access to the internet or reliable connections (Vick). People have had to adjust to not only changing how their work routine looks, but also the social implications of working from home. One of the great advantages of working in person is that people are able to not only bounce ideas off of each other, but also the pure aspect of socialization. People like being around other people, especially when they are people who you see every day. Working and socializing with others helps with not only better output, but also self-confidence (Berkeley Graduate Division).

Working from home has put a lot of strain on many people to adjust to being alone and away from their fellow employees. Yes, they can still communicate through social media, emails, and video conferencing, but the physical presence of another peer can have profound effects on how they function (Berkeley Graduate Division). People have struggled with adjusting to being home alone when working. Many feel lonely, bored, anxiety, isolated and a lack of communication with those that are close to them. Many people have also had to deal with losing their jobs because of COVID-19. With jobs going online, businesses have had to cut down the number of people that they employ. Some people have also lost their jobs because of the lack of internet connection that surrounds them (Kang). But not all people have taken working from home as a bad thing. Many people in fact have enjoyed doing so. Working from home gives them more freedom and flexibility. Some people enjoy working from home because it gives them a fresh perspective from being stuck in an office all day. Others enjoy working from home because they can set their own hours and more easily manage their workload and regular life. For a lot of people, working from home is preferable and they have wanted this option during normal working conditions.

What the Future Holds

Will working at home continue after the pandemic? With everyone now working at home, the post pandemic workforce may not look much different. While people have never seen the scale of work from home employees, the future after the COVID-19 pandemic may look very similar and function nearly the same. It is not easy for companies to have their employees work from home. While communication and most work can still be accomplished, many big scale projects and manufacturing tasks can not be done at home. As the length of the pandemic increases, employers must decide who can still work from home and who must come back in person. Deciding who stays and who comes back is not an easy task. Many considerations come into play. Employers must determine whether it is safe for any employee to come back, and if so, how many can come back without risking their being too many too close together (Gurchiek).

Another consideration faced by employers in deciding which workers they might want to bring back in person is internet connection. While most people have access to the internet, many still do not and this has put a large strain on their ability to complete and participate in their work. Employers could take into consideration that employees without internet access may have to come back first. Companies and employers have also been turning to alternative ways of giving employees access to the internet. While the reason some may not have internet access is because of where they live, many do not have internet access simply because they cannot afford it (Bough). This situation has also impacted the education system as well. Many students do not have access to the internet at home and have trouble completing their assignments (Kelly). Not only has this caused many problems for the students, but it has also put strain on the school systems to find a way to help out. Both companies and schools have come up with similar solutions to people not having internet access. Some schools have sent hotspots home with their students so that they can access the internet and complete their assignments. Similarly, companies have explored not only giving hotspots to employees, but also find them cheaper or even free ways of accessing the internet. There are many low cost options for people to access the internet. Not only are there different programs to get into, there are also different categories that let you access different internet speeds and accommodations. Many plans are based on your income, where you live, where you work and how many people need access to the internet  (Bough).

This image represents how people work now during the pandemic. People now have to jungle not only how their work has changed, but also integrating that into their everyday lives.

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, working from home will still be a popular opinion. While some people will enjoy going back to working in person and the benefits of being around colleagues again, many will want to continue working from home even if there is no longer a threat of pandemic. While the workforce had to rapidly adjust to working from home, the transition back to in person may be a slow one (Lister). Before the pandemic, many people were able to work from home at least partially to some extent. However, with the length of the COVID-19 pandemic not in sight, the transition back from working at home to in person may be even harder than what it was for people transitioning from in person to working at home. While many have concerns about how working from home hurts their personal skills, department cooperation, and work output, the comfortability of working from home, along with the flexibility of setting when and how long you work may cause many people to choose to stay at home (Lister).

The future of the world post COVID-19 pandemic is unknown. New safety regulations will be in-place, but how strict will they be? How will the fear of another outbreak affect how many people come back to work? Those who have ventured out into the world during the pandemic have had to wear masks and maintain a social distance from everybody around them. How will these factors affect how regulations will be imposed on the workplace in the future? No one is certain what will come post COVID-19, mainly because we don’t know how the pandemic will end. With all the new laws and or regulations that might or will be created, the number of people who work from home post-pandemic, whether full time or part time, will be greater than the number of people working from home pre-pandemic (Lister).

Conclusion

COVID-19 has changed the way we work. The pandemic has made it more difficult for businesses to operate and function. People have been forced to either give up part or all of their job or forced to work at home online. COVID-19 has not only changed the way we look at work, but also how we look at each other and our attitudes towards others. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but what we have learned during it will greatly influence and model what the post pandemic life might become.

References

Berkeley Graduate Division. “Social Constructivism.” Berkeley Graduate Division Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center, https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning theory-research/social-constructivim/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Bough, Claire. “Low Income Internet Guide: Get Government Assistance.” DecisionData.org, 23 Nov. 2020, https://decisiondata.org/internet/low-income-internet-options/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Ability to work from home: Evidence from two surveys and implications for the labor market in the COVID-19 pandemic: Monthly Labor Review.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 Jun. 2020, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2020/article/ability-to-work-from-home.htm. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Accessed Nov. 30 2020.

Gurchiek, Kathy. “COVID-19 and Deciding Who Continues Working from Home.” SHRM, 7 Jul. 2020, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/covid19-and-deciding-who-continues-working-from-home.aspx Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Kang, Cecilia. “Unemployed Detroit Residents Are Trapped by a Digital Divide.” The New York Times, 22 May 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/05/23/technology/unemployed-detroit-residents-are-trapped-by-a-digital-divide.html.

Kelly, Makena. “As COVID-19 pushes classes online, some students are caught in the broadband gap.” The Verge, 5 Mar. 2020, https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/6/21168463/coronavirus-covid19-seattle-public-schools-networks-broadband. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Lister, Kathy. “Work-at-Home After Covid-19-Our Forecast.” Global Workplace Analytics, 12 Apr. 2020, https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/work-at-home-after-covid-19-our-forecast. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

“The 12 Best Free Web Video Conferencing and Screenshare Apps of 2020.” VOIP Review, 28 Oct. 2020, www.voipreview.org/free-web-conferencing.

Vick, Karl. “The Digital Divide: A Quarter of the Nation Is Without Broadband.” Time, 30 Mar. 2017, https://time.com/4718032/the-digital-divide/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

Images

“Diverse people working at an office” by Rawpixel Ltd is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“Mother Child Work From Home” by Standsome is in the public domain

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