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Editorial: No turning back from new norms

 

When states started lifting COVID-19 lockdown restrictions last month, people who had been working from home through the crisis began preparing to head back to their workplaces, in many cases rather reluctantly.

For some, the chance to once again see and chat with co-workers face-to-face is a welcome return to normality, but for others — and for their employers — the mass telecommuting experiment that the coronavirus instigated proved to be a pleasant surprise.

Studies are already coming out showing that a significant number of workers want to continue working from home after the coronavirus pandemic ends. The headline reasons are obvious: no commute, fewer meetings, more flexible work hours and the comforts of home, not to mention seriously relaxed dress codes.

In addition, companies, according to some surveys, are finding that working from home also leads to improved productivity. Contented workers with fewer distractions operating in timeframes that work best for themselves are getting more done in a shorter time, notwithstanding the additional challenges that parents of school-age children have had to bear amid forced home-schooling.

While there are obstacles to overcome — it’s easier to mentor people in person, for example — in many cases they are not insurmountable.

Technology has played a large part in the success of work-from-home strategies. Videoconferencing, messaging apps, performance tracking software and other devices made the shift largely painless for many organizations. While necessity is the proverbial mother of invention, in this case it was more of a nurturer as most of the technology used had been widely available for some time.

Maybe it was a fear of testing the unknown or inertia or a combination of the two that prevented companies from taking advantage of all the telecommuting tools at hand previously, but we’ve clearly reached a new stage in the evolution of work.

For employers, especially those that are being hit hard by the recession, the long-term cost savings that telecommuting brings can be huge. Offloading expensive real estate costs could easily make the difference between profit and loss, and adding flexibility of work location means companies can vastly expand their pool of potential employees.

For risk managers, though, there will of course be insurance and safety implications.

Cyber risk for example will be heightened with telecommuters. Not only are employees more dependent on technology than ever before, it is harder to protect systems and people from hackers when devices are so widely dispersed.

In addition, it’s more difficult to ensure that workers use ergonomically sound workstations rather than hunch over a laptop in a coffee shop.

And despite bring-your-pet-to-work days, you are much more likely to be injured tripping over the dog at home than in the office.

Regardless, increased telecommuting will likely outlive the coronavirus and we all need to adapt.

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