The New World of Telework is Upon Us

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The New World of Telework is Upon Us

Before the COVID19 crisis, just 5.3 percent of U.S. employees reported telecommuting most of the time. And while 5.3% may seem small, that’s more than the number of Americans who commute via mass transit, according to the Eno Center for Transportation.  Meanwhile, 23.7% said they worked some hours from home on an average day, meaning that about a quarter of the population had at least a little experience with so-called “telework.”

Yet now, with the pandemic shuttering workplaces, that figure has skyrocketed, not just in the U. S., but globally. In effect, the COVID-19 public health crisis has created an unexpected stress-test for many parts of our basic daily routine including:

  • commuting to the office,
  • face-to-face meetings, and even
  • redefining what it means to be a “worker” in the modern economy.

With “social distancing” becoming a medium-term imperative in many places, employers’ transition to telework is poised to remake all of those assumptions, for the current crisis and beyond.

Notably, the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, has issued new guidance on telework. Specifically, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget urged agencies to “maximize telework flexibilities” for workers in the Washington, D.C. region, beginning in late March.  Days before that, Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, asked its Seattle and Bellevue-based headquarters employees to work from home for the remainder of March.

This surge in teleworking raised questions about whether the technologies that enable telework, such as video conferencing and remote desktops, could scale to handle the increased traffic associated with the COVID19 shutdown. It also raised the question, what we can do to ensure as many workers as possible are able to take advantage of telework?  At the same time, the crisis also forced us to reconsider whether there is a loss of value when we don’t work face-to-face...

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