Working From Home Has Benefits Some Don’t Want to Lose

For Jeff Anderson, 61, working from house through the coronavirus pandemic has been a respite from workplace politics and the chatter across the copy machine.

But because the push to reopen the nation’s economic system intensifies, so do emotions of dread on the concept of returning to the workplace, stated Mr. Anderson, a self-described introvert and anthropology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

“Just walking from the parking lot to my office I feel like I could be sick,” he stated. “It’s that bad.”

In wanting to work alone, Mr. Anderson will not be alone. People apart from introverts view a return to the workplace with unhappiness and anxiousness, and never simply because they still risk getting infected. A Gallup poll found a majority of American adults working from home would prefer to continue doing so “as much as possible” after the pandemic.

These fans of online work worry that they — and the country itself — will lose important benefits discovered during this unprecedented experiment in mass remote work. People who have never liked schmoozing with colleagues have found new heights of productivity away from meetings and office chitchat. People worried about climate change are eager to reduce their carbon footprints by avoiding commutes by car. And while many parents are desperate for schools and day care centers to reopen, some working parents are appreciating more time with their children.

Before the pandemic, Christine Reilley had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to catch an early bus to Manhattan, where she works as senior director of strategy and innovation for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“I’m better rested. I can devote more time to my work,” she said. “Just saving the time and money of commuting, I really like this personally.”

For remote work to be successful, employers need to provide the right equipment and other support, said Laurel Farrer, chief executive of Distribute Consulting, a business consulting firm. And the employees must be able to get work done without supervision. If set up properly, experts and advocates say, remote work has many benefits:

Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicted that workers will be looking for the “happy medium,” splitting time between remote work and showing up at the office. The hope is that the pandemic will have shown managers that workers can be trusted to do their jobs without constant supervision. “Any kind of flexibility is something that people are really, really ripe for, just some control over where and when they work,” she said.

Many people who had never considered this kind of working life have now had a taste of it, and they love it.

Jacquie Benetua-Rolens, communications and engagement coordinator at Santa Cruz Community Health Centers, has a 2-year-old son who has become a daily part of Zoom meetings with colleagues, waving at them in his pajamas.

“There is this softened, unfiltered, more honest version of ourselves that I’m enjoying getting to know,” Ms. Benetua-Rolens said. “There is room to be forgiving and understanding with each other and ourselves. And it’s because we’ve all had to juggle.”

Ms. Benetua-Rolens said she often thinks of her small cubicle back at the office, which she decorated with plants and pictures of her two children.

“I used to love it,” she said. “But I don’t miss it at all. I don’t want to go back to that even though my house is filthy.”

Jessica Keup, a 37-year-old single mother and a computer programmer in Ann Arbor, Mich., moved to her parents’ home in rural Tennessee with her 3-year-old son in mid-March, after her company told employees to work from home.

Since then, she has been coding from the deck while her son plays with the goats, chickens and peacocks that roost on the vast property.

Ms. Keup said the solitude has made her more focused and more productive. Her work is not interrupted by chatty colleagues who want to say hi or need help fixing a computer glitch.

“The people who are in the office who are extroverts stand out and talk a lot and can take the oxygen out of the room,” she said.

At least one poll from early in the pandemic suggests a strong preference for remote work. Gallup found that almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace. The online survey of 2,276 randomly selected adults was conducted from March 14 through April 2. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

At the very least, some workers would like to see employers put lessons of the pandemic into practice, including more compassionate management in general.

Rico Sisney, who works for Greenpeace U.S.A., said he would like to continue seeing the kinds of emails his organization has been sending lately encouraging employees to take walks and small breaks.

“Organizations can continue that even when there is not a pandemic,” Mr. Sisney said. “Highlight mental health.”

Christine de Denus, a chemistry professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, said she has relished the quiet of working from her porch. She thinks workplaces should adapt to all styles of working.

“Go to the people and say, ‘How can I help you thrive?’” Ms. de Denus said. “Just because I’m quiet in a meeting doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas.”

When the time comes to return to the office, Ms. Keup said she plans to ask if she can work two to four weeks a year from Tennessee.

“It’s beautiful. It’s resting and restorative,” she said. “And I’ll miss that.”

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