In March, many Northwest Arkansas businesses began the work-life change of having as many people as possible work from home to lessen the spread of the horror of COVID-19.
Social media company Twitter recently announced its employees are all working from home permanently. Many, and I too, laud this change as a great, flexible work option, especially for working parents whose children’s schools were shut down and for those with compromised health conditions.
The evidence that some employees can successfully work from home more could be the only good that comes from this horror show.
But what about when this disease’s positive test numbers stop growing, the schools reopen and we are ready to return to “normal” work routines? Should America’s companies keep the work at home orders in place? I caution any rush to say “yes” for the following reasons:
Do we really care about the collapse of small businesses across the country? Permanently working from home would decimate millions of small businesses in our nation’s downtown areas. In the past 15 years, our country has witnessed a movement to revitalize our downtown districts and bring people back to working and seeking entertainment there versus in the suburbs. We have championed “shop small, not the suburb mall.”
If suddenly all these people flock back to the suburbs for work, what about all the downtown district dry cleaners, small restaurants, bodegas, gift shops, after-work bars, barber and hair/nail salons, lunch delivery services, commercial cleaning services and coffee shops? Also, consider the collapse of commercial property values, bankruptcies by commercial property owners, and the huge numbers of people employed to manage and maintain downtown office complexes and retail buildings nationwide.
Is being isolated in a home office really good for anyone day after day after day? It took me only 20 minutes to search and find scores of articles written even pre-COVID-19 that evidenced the much larger numbers of remote workers versus office workers experiencing loneliness, burnout, anxiety and depression in the past decade. A CNBC online article published in May stated 51% of remote workers are already reporting burnout. Many interviewed said they are working more hours from home than they did in the office for the same pay and experiencing panic attacks as they feel isolated and more fearful about their work lives and futures.
Oh, sure, the corporations and medium-sized companies love their lowered utility bills, reduced costs of not providing employees’ coffee, water, meeting lunches and savings by having employees pay for their own Wi-Fi, office equipment/furniture and higher home utility bills. Are the employees working from home benefiting from these huge expenses saved by their employers?
Is the concept of “one team” at work going to disappear? It has taken centuries to change corporate America’s attitudes from the boss-versus-the-workers mindset to the team model where everyone’s role at work matters from the lowest paid to the highest paid. If employees are all scattered miles apart from each other, are they still a “team” if they only maybe see each other on a screen a few times a day? What about management and officer transparency when no one ever actually sees the CEO or CFO anymore?
Knee-jerk reactions to a crisis are rarely the best solutions. There will be major issues forthcoming in Americans’ work lives if everyone stays home to work permanently. We all need to question the impetus of management decisions to dismantle the traditional in-office work model to ensure it is truly what is “best” for the entire work and community ecosystems of our nation.
Martha Londagin is an executive consultant with the Startup Junkie Foundation in Fayetteville. She is a licensed attorney, a former public-school educator and banker. She is also a sixth-generation Northwest Arkansas resident and small-business owner. The opinions expressed are those of the author.