Working remotely: What began as a necessity has become the norm

In the past, remote work was shunned by employers out of fear that their staff would be less productive at home. However, recent surveys since the pandemic have shown the exact opposite is true. — Photo by Windows on Unsplash

Working remotely was already in play for many progressive companies in the United States but once the pandemic hit it became mandated for public health reasons.

Now, two years later, it's a common practice in the workforce and a growing trend.

"When I started working at Oakland University (2016) I was commuting five days a week from Fraser. The commute took anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes more depending on weather and traffic conditions," said Sean Delaney, public information specialist at Oakland University (OU).

His wife had a similar commute.

Eventually, they moved to Clarkston and while the shorter distance to his job at the university in Rochester Hills eased the stress he endured on the road he still had the expense of daycare.

Prior to the pandemic, OU President Ora Hirsch Prescovitz implemented a more flexible schedule that allowed for a better work/life balance: four days in the office and one day remote.

"This new schedule was welcomed because it allowed me great flexibility with my time," Delaney said. "During the pandemic, we switched to being fully remote while producing more content for the OU website than ever."

In the past, remote work was shunned by employers out of fear that their staff would be less productive at home. However, recent surveys since the pandemic have shown the exact opposite is true.

"Fifty-one of survey respondents indicate that they have been more productive working from home during COVID-19, and 95% of respondents say productivity has been higher or the same while working remotely," according to a report by

Some of the top reasons respondents gave for their increased productivity include:

  • Fewer interruptions (68%)
  • More focused time (63%)
  • Quieter work environment (68%)
  • More comfortable workplace (66%)
  • Avoiding office politics (55%)

"The greatest benefit of working remotely has been the cost savings we've been able to enjoy due to the reduced number of days we've needed to use daycare," Delaney said. "As many parents know – daycare can be extremely expensive – especially with two kids."

All of these expenses were significantly reduced. Even now that the pandemic has subsided and he started working a hybrid schedule of three days in the office and two days remote, he's saving money.

"We've been able to cut our daycare costs almost in half," Delaney said. "We also reduced our expenses in other areas such as gas and vehicle maintenance since I'm now commuting three days a week instead of five."

The savings has also been beneficial to employers including nonprofits.

"We had a private office and that's a big overhead," said Diane Banks, executive director of the Mount Clemens-based Advancing Macomb, a nonprofit that works to bring about collaborative initiatives that provide sustainable solutions for communities. Prior to the pandemic, Banks was already working remotely one day a week. "When the pandemic hit in March of 2020 my two staff people went fully remote."

Nothing in their budget prepared them to work remotely.

"We really had to be resourceful," Banks said.

However, eventually they were able to find software that provided them with a platform for meetings and the creation of a newsletter that was free for the first three months. Then they were off and running.

Banks also shared her discoveries with other organizations and charities in the community and chose to keep operations mostly remote.

"All of our staff have kids so being able to offer them a flexible schedule is definitely a perk," Banks said. "I think a lot of nonprofits will be doing the same. For administrative purposes I see hybrid scheduling sticking."

Wave of remote work

During the pandemic era (between 2019 and 2021) the number of people primarily working from home tripled from 5.7% (roughly 9 million people) to 17.9% (27.6 million), according to data from the American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many experts are finding that despite massive tech layoffs and economic uncertainty, the majority of employers are going to maintain flexible work policies in 2023.

With updated data and new insights, ZiplyFiber, which provides fiber internet to northwestern states, revisited their 2022 analysis to forecast the best remote careers in 2023.

Last year's survey of the top five jobs for remote work included:

  • Software develope
  • Registered nurse
  • Psychiatrist
  • Digital marketer
  • Computer systems analyst

This year's survey of the top five best jobs for remote work included:

  • Corporate executive officer
  • Product manager
  • Data scientist
  • Software developer
  • Project manager
  • Information security analyst

Changing work space

At the start of the pandemic it was furniture supply stores that were the busiest – filling orders for desks, computer tables and chairs for employees working at home. Then, as businesses slowly reopened remote workers ventured out to their favorite cafe and restaurant – which allowed for some interaction with people. Along the way they discovered spaces like Folio Coworking Offices in Ferndale and The Collaborative in Mount Clemens.

Folio Ferndale touts space for businesses of all sizes and stages with working day-to-day features like WiFI that is fast and secure, a printer that actually works and amenities like a comfy couch, snacks and beverages.

When Banks and her staff went remote she knew that there would be other nonprofits in the same position. While they were saving money on rent, working remotely also made them less accessible to the network of organizations and agencies they work with so she ventured out to find a space they could share.

"We knew that nonprofits would be looking for a way to connect – where everyone could express their concerns and share services like Zoom," Banks said.

The Collaborative became that space and remains a central location for Advancing Macomb, along with other nonprofits, looking to make connections in the community.

Both Folio and The Collaborative are two of many companies supporting the workspace revolution that shows no signs of slowing down, anywhere.

The Collaborative's founder Jimmy Gwizdala said it's here to stay.

"The flexibility is what makes the model of remote work valuable," Gwizdala said.

Whether you're a Fortune 500 company with executives working in one city or flying around the country there are times and spaces available to lease, rent, or even use on a day to day basis.

The Collaborative has more than 100 members who utilize one of several plans ranging from monthly memberships under $100 a month to communal memberships of $125, all of which come with conference room hours that can be used at their leisure. Others might rent space by square footage.

"I was working at home but I had to leave. I couldn't do it anymore," said Mary-Grace Busti, a member of the Collaborative, who runs a virtual, life coaching practice. "I wasn't talking to anyone. I wasn't seeing anyone but four walls. I needed a different environment."

The loss of personal connections was also the biggest challenge for OU's Delaney.

"I was so used to seeing and talking with the people I work with on a daily basis, it was difficult to lose that when we went fully remote during the pandemic," he said.

Fallout of remote working

This lack of social interaction with fellow workers, the public, clients, other businesses and employees, conversations at the water cooler, birthday parties and daily celebrations among staff for stellar performances or awards has all but disappeared for those working remotely.

It's this social impact that's going to come back and bite us, one expert believes.

Chaturi Edrisinha, a special education professor and researcher within the School of Education and Human Resources at OU, spends three days a week on the campus and two at home.

"I don't see us ever going back to the way things were," Edrisinha said.

It's too convenient and it benefits both sides.

However, she believes the environmental cause created by working remotely, learning remotely and socializing remotely is going to have a huge impact on mental health in the future and in some cases is already happening.

"We're losing grace," she said.

Take your last meeting on Zoom as an example. Instead of listening to everyone and remaining engaged, people say what they need to say. Then they leave the meeting via their mute button and go shopping, or to the kitchen for a snack.

Edrisinha said those things would never happen during an office meeting in person, face to face because they are socially unacceptable.

"When you're on Zoom you can be rude," Edrisinha said. "I think such behavior is going to be a huge problem, and we're not looking at that."

Tips for working remotely

Being socially respectful during a phone or Zoom meeting goes without saying. If you must leave a meeting let everyone know you're cutting out early or excuse yourself for a minute.

Here are are a few other tips to consider as a remote worker compiled by Jacqueline Baker, author of "The Unexpected Leader" and global leadership consultant:

Be prepared to work

Technology is a great resource when it works properly, but we know that often it doesn't. Remember to sign into your virtual engagements a couple of minutes early to make sure that the technology is working appropriately.

Give yourself a break

While working remotely doesn't require you to physically move from conference room to conference room, you're still exerting energy. Remember to give yourself breaks, or at least small pockets of time in between appointments versus scheduling back-to-back meetings.

Reach out to fellow workers

Carve out time to stay connected. It's really easy to become isolated and get out of the loop. Being proactive by scheduling virtual or in-person coffee meetings are casual opportunities that help you stay connected with people.

Be aware of your own surroundings

Your background, lighting, and workspace will be visible to other people. Do a check around you before you hit that join button to make sure that you'll be visually represented the way that you want to.

Your domain is also your office

Be sure to have a dedicated work space so that you can set boundaries between when you're working and when it's time for you to fully be at home. – The Macomb Daily/Tribune News Service

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Remote work , WFH


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