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Should Work-From-Home be Mandatory Even after the COVID Pandemic?

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As the pandemic wanes and the world fights to claw its way out of the economic drain, leaders and company executives are trying to figure out how to change with the changing economy. To put the situation in perspective: In 2019, only 3.4% of employees worked remotely. Working from home was considered a job perk and only a select few enjoyed this privilege. Fast-forward to 2020, the percentage of individuals working remotely is now more than 43%. This has been an unanticipated change. People had to adapt as quickly as possible because many businesses were at risk of failing, and leaders needed to act fast!

Adapting to the Setbacks of the Pandemic by Promoting Remote Work

As companies and employees adapt to this new world, executives and team leaders are faced with a harsh truth: the office is not needed after all! A lot of tasks can be accomplished remotely. This realization placed many traditionalists in a tight spot. A decade ago, team leaders countered the idea of remote working by saying workers needed constant supervision for them to be productive. The opposite has now been shown to be true. Remote workers are happier and more productive than their counterparts who commute to the office. With productivity tools readily available, a lot of team leaders now use time tracking apps to monitor their employees remotely. Technology has made it clear that employees do not need an office to be productive.

Should Companies Continue to Pursue Remote Work?

While it’s true that some jobs require physical presence and can’t be done remotely (think of delivery personnel and field workers), the figures are clear on this one, with 77% of remote workers saying they want to continue working from home after the pandemic. Companies are now making policies to accommodate remote working. Workers who can work remotely should be allowed to do so.

Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are setting the pace in this regard. Google and Facebook are looking for ways to create a hybrid environment that will allow workers to choose when to commute or telecommute, while Twitter is going for a wholly remote-working team. Other companies are following this path or at least they are considering the possibility. The logic is simple: why waste money on renting office space and paying for employee transport if the job can be done from anywhere? Allowing for remote work also means employers have the advantage of hiring talent from different parts of the globe.

However, not everyone is suited for remote work. 23% of individuals currently being forced to work out of office because of the pandemic cannot wait to resume commuting to the office. This group of people consider themselves to be more productive when in the office and they are eager to leave the house post-pandemic. Trying to figure out how to manage time while working from home isn’t the best idea for this set of individuals. This creates a question: How can companies create a balance and allow for diversity?

Offering Job Flexibility Even After Lockdown Restrictions

The answer to this question is not far-fetched. Building a hybrid team is a great way to create a balance between remote and office work. By giving people the option to choose when to work from home and when to be in the office, companies can build flexibility and make themselves more attractive to their workforce. One way to boost productivity for remote work is to realize that flexibility is important to employees. Even if some of them choose to commute to work daily, knowing they have the option to work remotely whenever they want will increase their loyalty for the company. A research conducted by Owl Labs shows that remote workers stay longer with a company than their counterparts who commute to the office. Individuals who have no option to telecommute are more likely to look for new jobs sooner than later. This means employers who do not allow telecommuting tend to lose more employees. They will also spend extra time and resources trying to hire new talent to fill the vacancy.

In the end, making it mandatory to either work from home or the office is not the answer. Instead, company leaders should look towards implementing policies that can allow employees to choose what works for them. Every employee should have the option to choose when to work from home and when to go to the office. It is time to embrace the new and let go of the old.

About the Author: Ikechukwu Nnabeze is a tech expert and a successful freelancer whose main area of interest is to improve people’s lives with the help of modern technology. His interest in providing practical solutions to real-life tech problems has led him to a successful career in creating content for Traqq. His passion is to help individuals and organizations from all over the world to embrace the life-changing beauty of modern technology. He enjoys poetry in his spare time.


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Trump pushes to reopen country, but his own workforce isn’t rushing back

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Daniel Lippman

President Donald Trump wants America to go back to work, but his administration is struggling to bring back many of its own employees.

With Covid-19 infections still rising in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and other major cities with big government operations, it could be months before federal workers are back in the office at normal, pre-coronavirus levels.

The Trump administration last month laid out guidelines for reopening government offices and bringing operations back to normal,looking to gradually reduce the number of employees who are teleworking across the country. But the memo from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management did not set any time lines or mandates, leaving significant discretion to the individual agencies. Democratic lawmakers, labor leaders and more than a half dozen federal employees POLITICO spoke to complained there has been little transparency or clear guidance from the agencies about the way forward.

“Central guidance to federal agencies is essential to a safe and effective return to workplaces,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Hopefully, federal leaders will also have the discretion to continue remote working situations where it is working well, even if a return to physical locations is possible.”

At the same time, agency staffers are well aware the president and his top officials are eager to demonstrate the country is getting back to normal.

“I’m sure it’s on everybody’s mind that they want to make an example of federal workers and the optics of the thing are that we would lead the way to resume work,” one career Health and Human Services department staffer said. But “doing it without adequate testing in place is just throwing fire on what’s going to be the next wave. It’s not as though the situation has changed.”

If the administration pushes ahead anyway, it could prompt a showdown between the government, its workforce and the unions that represent them.

“Even though some politicians think it’s time to turn the page and declare (the coronavirus outbreak) over, we know otherwise,” American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said at a town hall with Department of Veteran Affairs employees Wednesday.

“We know that frontline employees at the VA need congressional action on PPE, hazard pay, telework, administrative leave and new OSHA standards, and new issues are arising every day as this pandemic advances,” he said, using the acronyms for personal protective equipment and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Kelley’s union, which represents 700,000 workers in the federal and Washington, D.C., governments, last week announced a set of preconditions it believes must be met before reopening, including universal testing, full compliance with OSHA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, adequate PPE at every worksite and removal of employees who are either symptomatic or have reported contact with infected workers.

Other unions, such as the National Treasury Employees Union, have taken similar steps. NTEU, which represents 150,000 employees, created a “#SafeReturn” flier for its employees and their agencies. Its requirements for returning to work include stay-at-home orders being lifted; full stocking of supplies such as hand sanitizer, wipes and gloves; face covers that are provided; and a temperature-taking process before allowing people to enter the building.

The government is unlikely to meet all of those standards, however. And the unions have little power to force the issue. Unlike state and local employees, they cannot strike. “It remains our hope that this administration will come to the table and work out a solution that puts the health and safety of workers, their families, and their communities first,” Kelley said.

In a pair of letters made public last week, Senate Democrats posed a series of questions to the Office of Personnel Management and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget about how the government will reopen.

Six Democrats on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee complained to acting OPM director Michael Rigas that OPM “has refused to provide regular and timely briefings” to the panel regarding its efforts to support the federal workforce. They also requested additional information on how OPM has moved to provide federal employees and contractors with adequate personal protective equipment.

The second letter, signed by 22 Senate Democrats and addressed to Rigas and acting OMB director Russell Vought, sought more information on how the administration will maximize telework options and evaluate when it’s safe for federal employees to return to work. The Democrats lamented that “some federal employees who have jobs that can be done remotely are still not able to access telework.”

In an email, an OMB spokesperson said in a statement: “President Trump has ensured the government remains open and essential services continue to be provided to the American public throughout this emergency. It’s no surprise Democrats continue to play politics, but the fact is agencies have been given clear and consistent guidance throughout this crisis to maximize telework, and they are now working to return to normal operations as conditions warrant across each state. This Administration is committed to serving the American public.”

As of now, agencies are not rushing to fully reopen their offices. The State Department on Friday unveiled a “conditions-based, phased approach” for bringing back workers around the globe, based on health risks at each individual location.

And the career staffer at the Health and Human Services Department said the agency is “not trying to be very aggressive about” reopening.

“I heard internally that the plan that they’re playing with right now, which is obviously still in flux, is that we would be out until August and then September, October, November would be basically doing shifts,” the employee said. “The big takeaway seemed to be that there was no definitive plan but certainly no expectation that we’re coming back anytime in the near future.”

An HHS spokesperson said the agency is following OPM guidelines and working with state and local health officials to ensure its workers are safe and have the flexibility they need in “a rapidly evolving situation.”

The Food and Drug Administration, which is playing a central role in the government’s coronavirus response, sent an email last week to employees authorizing extended telework at least until June 1st, a longtime FDA employee said. However, the employee added, “I don’t see how things are going to be significantly different into next winter.” The employee noted that many people at the FDA share offices, while support staff sit at desks in hallways where it’s harder to socially distance.

If the FDA tries to force its staff back to the office before then, the many doctors and academics who work there are “going to make so much noise because they’re not going to want to go back,” the employee said. “And how does it look if there’s an outbreak at FDA or an outbreak at CDC or NIH?”

An FDA spokesperson noted that FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn “has told employees we’re not racing against any clock to return to FDA worksites and that the agency will always keep its employees’ health and well-being at the top of its considerations.”

In March, one FDA employee tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the unique coronavirus, the FDA employee said. And on Monday, the FDA sent out an email saying a security guard for one of their buildings had tested positive, according to the FDA employee.

A top FDA official, Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA, acknowledged in an internal April 20th video that employees have told her that they’re worried about going back to their offices.

“I know that is what is at top of people’s minds because people have been emailing me and sending to ask Janet and so forth,” she said. “People are worried about coming back to work and their physical safety.”

Woodcock told POLITICO in an email that “some people are more risk averse than others. … And we have some staff with varying underlying conditions that put them at greater risk. And they can do their work very well remotely.”

The greater Washington, D.C. area, including suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, is home to by far the largest concentration of federal workers in the country — nearly 300,000 people. It’s also one of the metro areas where coronavirus cases and deaths continue to mount. New York City and its suburbs, which have been at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, are home to the second largest number of federal employees. Hundreds of thousands more federal workers are spread throughout the country and world, in places where the virus is contained and others where it is spreading rapidly.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in the United States, more than 10,000 federal employees have tested positive for Covid-19, Government Executive reported last week.

Many of those employees are considered essential workers, including doctors, nurses and staff at VA hospitals and clinics, Transportation Security Administration employees at airports and others working in national security fields.

Kelley testified at a virtual House Homeland Security Committee forum last week that TSA employees need the public to wear masks at airports to protect federal workers from contracting the virus and taking it home to their families. More than 500 TSA workers have already tested positive for Covid-19, and five have died.

At AFGE’s virtual town hall last week, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio promoted his proposal for hazard pay policy — “Pandemic Premium Pay” — which he’s pushed to include in the next stimulus package Congress passes. And he called on OSHA to issue stronger standards to protect workers.

“To me, you don’t reopen this economy until you make sure that workers are safe,” Brown said at Wednesday’s town hall.

This article was published at Politico on May 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Daniel Lippman is a reporter covering the White House and Washington for POLITICO. He was previously a co-author of POLITICO’s Playbook and still writes Playbook’s “Great Weekend Reads” section on Saturdays and Sundays and the “Social Data” section of POLITICO New York Playbook.

Before joining POLITICO, he was a fellow covering environmental news for E&E Publishing and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York. He has also interned for McClatchy Newspapers and Reuters. During a stint freelancing in 2013, he traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border to cover the impact of the Syrian civil war for The Huffington Post and CNN.com.

He graduated from The Hotchkiss School in 2008 and from The George Washington University in 2012. Daniel hails from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and enjoys playing tennis, seeing movies and trying out new restaurants in his free time.

Nolan D. McCaskill

About the Author: Nolan D. McCaskill is a national political reporter covering the 2020 presidential race.

He previously covered Congress and authored the Huddle newsletter at POLITICO, where he started as an inaugural member of POLITICO’s Journalism Institute in 2014 before accepting a yearlong fellowship through 2015, later becoming a breaking news reporter and briefly covering the White House.

Nolan is a December 2014 graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, The Famuan, and a former producer for his university’s live television newscasts.

Nolan is PJI’s inaugural Emerging Communicator and a 2017-18 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow.


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Rights, Responsibilities, and Recommendations for Remote Work Under COVID-19 Restrictions

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The coronavirus pandemic and resulting global quarantine have changed the way all we live and work, and it’s unclear when the lockdown will lift. You might be among the thousands of workers caught off-guard as employers made a hasty transition to remote work — and even now, weeks later, you might still be struggling to catch up.  Even if you’re a work-from-home veteran, you’ve likely never done it under social distancing conditions. 

Whatever your work-from-home situation, questions arise: How much leeway do I have in balancing my family’s needs against my employer’s? How do I stay focused and maintain my workload? And how do I establish some normalcy amid all these worries and distractions? While not all questions are answerable yet, here are some factors to consider about your rights and responsibilities as a new remote worker, as well as basic recommendations to help you catch up to the learning curve and work from home productively during the quarantine.

Emergency Preparation And Response

In addition to a global health emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented economic failure around the world. While nobody can accurately predict the full scope of the effects on the world’s economy, experts agree on basic measures that can help you prepare to meet the financial challenges that lie ahead:

  • Assemble important documents. In addition to putting together a disaster preparedness kit with materials and supplies, it’s recommended that you assemble a legal and financial emergency packet. Locate and make copies of the following: 
    • Identification documents for each family member (including pets) – birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, picture IDs
    • Financial documents – bank account info, tax returns, pay stubs
    • Insurance information – copies of cards and policies
    • Info on bills and other financial obligations – rental and payment agreements
  • Assess and get control over your finances. A clear picture of your financial situation is more necessary now than ever, even if the news is bad as a result of the coronavirus. Now is the time to look into the following areas and take steps to repair any weak spots:
  • Analyzing your spending and cutting out nonessential expenditures 
  • Revising your household budget to accommodate a drop in income or a rise in expenses 
  • Establishing an emergency fund with 3-6 months’ worth of expenses 
  • Enacting measures to monitor, repair, and build your credit rating in anticipation of needing to borrow money
  • Negotiating better interest rates or payback arrangements with lenders or cardholders 

Workplace Considerations

Companies that once pled ignorance or incompetence at initiating work-from-home policies have learned in a hurry how to make it happen. But this haste has made for a transition that’s not always smooth, logistically or legally. Consider these elements when you’re navigating the work-from-home learning curve:

  • Set yourself up online. Reliable internet access is the key to staying in touch not only with your boss, colleagues, and/or clients, but also with news sources, family, friends, and the rest of the world. Equip your home with secure, reliable Wi-Fi internet access, plus a virtual private network, or VPN, if your company offers it. (Start with this step because, especially in a crisis, it may take some time.) 
  • Sort out your tech. Make sure your workspace has all the technology you need to function. You’ll likely be meeting via video conferencing, so don’t forget your webcam and microphone if it’s not already built-in. Load all the software you need for operations, communication, recordkeeping, etc., onto your computer at home. If you’re set up with a cloud storage account, your work files should be secure and accessible from anywhere.
  • Know that your productivity might be monitored. You should be aware that about half of all big companies use some kind of monitoring software for work-from-home employees, so workers won’t treat this stressful time as “one big vacation.” Keystroke monitors, attention checks for screen-sharing functions, and employer access to Slack conversations, while they create some civil liberty concerns, are nonetheless common.  

Uncertainty is the rule during this crisis, and the only promising way to meet it is with caution, preparation, and resolution. An awareness of our rights and responsibilities — and of our human capacity for cooperation in times of greatest need — can bring us through this crisis together.

Printed with permission.

About the Author: Molly Barnes is a full-time digital nomad. She works remotely, travels constantly, and explores different cities across the U.S. She started her site, www.digitalnomadlife.org as a resource for travelers, nomads, and remote workers. Molly writes resources that help office and remote workers alike reach their personal and professional goals of becoming more successful. Follow along with her and her boyfriend Jacob on their blog as they pursue a nomadic lifestyle while freelancing and traveling across the country.


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“Pajama Workforce”: Insult or Badge of Honor?

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Wayne TurmelRemote workers get called a lot of things, from “telecommuters” to “lucky so and so’s.” Recently, an article in Talent Management magazine gave them the label of “Pajama Workforce” — because the perception of many is that people can do that work without even getting dressed, or can pretty much disregard the rules of work place decorum (not to mention hygiene) that those who schlep into the office must adhere to.

This perception cuts two ways: either those who work remotely are not shackled by the normal conventions of the traditional office or workplace (this is the ” death to the necktie and all who wear them!” school of thought) or they are undisciplined and slothful (”they’re at home in their bunny slippers while we do the real work”). As with most such polarities, neither is entirely true — or inaccurate.

In defense of the pajamas

Different workers have different work styles, and much of what’s appropriate depends on the work being done. If the only thing you’re measuring is the output, it shouldn’t matter if the person doing the work is in their pajamas, a three-piece suit or a smoking jacket and ascot, as long as the work gets done on time and at a high level of quality.

Another reason managers need to worry less about what their people are wearing is that remote workers tend to spend more time actually working. This includes attending conference calls at all hours of the day or night to accommodate timezones and teammates scattered hither and yon. If you’re going to drag me out of bed at 5 a.m. to be on a call with the plant in Dusseldorf, don’t expect me to be showered. In fact, you’ll be lucky if I’ve had enough coffee at that point to even be functional.

Studies suggest that remote workers put in more actual productive hours than people who commute into an office or central location, so get off our backs and worry about more important things, like fixing the VPN so I can actually get some work done.

In defense of shirts with buttons

Of course, perception is often the better part of reality, and if you’re wearing a Motley Crue T-shirt on a video conference with your VP of Sales, odds are there’s some perception there that won’t work to your advantage. Your communication style and the messages you send still matter, and in some ways they matter even more because your colleagues can’t see first hand how hard you work, so your opportunities to create strong positive impressions are limited.

Moreover, everyone discovers what works for them, and habits help dictate behavior. For example, whether they can see me or not, on days when I’m spending time consulting with customers or  delivering training, I dress in what I refer to as my “big-boy clothes.”  The routine of showering, grooming and dressing like a professional helps put me in the right frame of mind to act like one. Sure, it’s a mental trick I pull on myself, but it works for me. (Be honest — without some level of denial and self-delusion, most of us would never get out of bed in the morning.)

It often takes a while for remote workers — especially those who are new to it– to find what works for them. As managers, we need to check in with our people to see how they’re coping. Are they finding a work style that works for them? What are the best practices that will help them strike the balance between the freedom and comfort of working remotely and the routine and professionalism that you expect in their work? There are plenty of slackers in Armani suits — and a lot of hard workers in bunny slippers.

This article was originally published on Bnet.com’s Connected Manager.

About The Author: Wayne Turmel is obsessed with helping organizations and their managers communicate better, even across cyberspace. He’s a writer, a speaker, the president of Greatwebmeetings.com, and the host of one of the world’s most successful business podcasts, The Cranky Middle Manager Show, where he helps listeners worldwide deal with the million little challenges and indignities of being a modern manager. His book 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar: Generate Leads and Tell Your Story to the World is the leading web presentation book on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter @greatwebmeeting


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