BY BETH LIVINGSTON Assistant Professor, Henry B. Tippie College of Business
WHEN THE DUST SETTLES in the wake of COVID-19, we will see a fundamental shift in the way work is done in the United States and around the world. Before COVID-19, less than 4% of the U.S. workforce worked at least half time remotely, a number that expanded quickly at the outset of the pandemic. Some have estimated almost half of all employees worked remotely in April and May 2020—a number that is even higher among professional and knowledge workers.
Although companies seem eager to bring their workforce back to normal, Gallup estimated that 60% of employees would prefer to continue working remotely. I expect we will see a shift in which millions of American employees will continue to work from home most of the time.
There are easily observable benefits to remote work—companies can save on real estate costs and employees save commuting time—but there are also some benefits that can seem counterintuitive to nervous managers. Research has suggested that employees who work remotely are more productive and take fewer breaks. Having autonomy over how and when to do your work can reduce work-family stress, particularly for mothers.
Research has suggested that employees who work remotely are more productive and take fewer breaks. Having autonomy over how and when to do your work can reduce work-family stress, particularly for mothers. — Beth Livingston
Managers may balk at the idea of managing a primarily remote workforce, particularly if they have little experience doing so, and this is mostly because they don't always know how to manage employees from a distance. Managers too often mistake monitoring for management, and it can make transitioning to remote work both scary and difficult. But employees also report difficulties with remote work, particularly around collaboration and building of community. I imagine companies—freed from the way things have always been—might lean into creative ways to collaborate and build connections that leverage technology, flexible work spaces and schedules, and empowering leadership that relies on workers to do their work in the ways they see fit, so long as it gets done.
Though many companies deployed remote work as an emergency reaction to a global crisis, a more strategic and thoughtful plan over the longer term will likely lead to a shifting of how work and management are approached.
BY ROBIN CLARK-BENNETTLabor Educator, UI Labor Center
IT'S CLEAR WE NEED TO RECOMMIT to workers' safety on the job in ways we have not in recent years. We need to recommit to living wages, paid family and medical leave, and access to health insurance for workers in traditional as well as "gig economy" jobs. The gaps in these areas have been exposed in stark and painful ways during the pandemic, as well as the reality that these are not just workers' rights issues but matters of public health that affect us all. A robust economic safety net makes us a more functional society and saves lives in times of crisis.
BY DAVID HENSLEY (86BS) Executive Director, UI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center
ENTREPRENEURIAL VENTURES and small businesses account for a significant number of jobs in our communities and generate wealth that supports families, community organizations, and our society. The coronavirus pandemic hit small businesses especially hard, and unfortunately, many will not survive.
That said, one of the positive results of the pandemic has been the public's recognition of the importance of community-based enterprises. We've seen a resurgence in the push to buy local, support family-owned businesses, and donate to area charitable organizations. Citizens are coming together to ensure their communities remain viable and strong.
The economic fallout of the pandemic will likely be with us for the near future. I expect to see an acceleration of entrepreneurial activity driven by the need for innovative solutions to the medical, business, and societal challenges brought on by the pandemic. Some who have lost jobs will seize the opportunity to pursue their true passion and start a new enterprise. Ultimately, entrepreneurs and small business owners will again be the driver of economic activity.
BY CARLY NICHOLS Assistant Professor, Global Health Studies and Geographical and Sustainability Sciences
WE'VE ALWAYS HAD A STRONG UNDERSTANDING that the industrial food and agricultural system may not be good for people, that it produces inequitable health outcomes of malnutrition and obesity, that it's not good for the environment, and it's not good for social equality. To have all that splayed out for us at the end of March really hammered home the importance of local communities, and we saw a surge of interest in home gardening, community gardening, self-provisioning of food, and supporting local people we know and trust. Whether this interest in banding together can be sustained past the most acute periods of the pandemic is something we should examine. It's good to find out more about those local food organizations and support them.