The pandemic has changed our society in many ways. In some cases, it seems to have done irreparable harm. Fortunately, there have been some upsides and our society has learned some useful lessons along the way. One thing that some folks find beneficial and positive is that many companies and employees have learned that working remotely can actually work!
In the DME industry, there is a great potential for workers to work remotely. Obviously, retail stores and delivery services require an onsite presence. But positions such as billing and accounts payable, along with any kind of bookkeeping and telephonic customer service jobs can easily be done from home. Respiratory therapy and other clinical positions often work “in the field”. During the pandemic, many organizations came up with creative ways to deliver these services. Zoom and Facetime calls for teaching equipment troubleshooting and providing therapies became the norm and clinicians routinely met customers outside of organizations, on porches (the so called “porch delivery”), or at public parks to help decrease the chance of contracting Covid. These processes were good temporary measures, but as the pandemic starts to resolve, industry trends show that some of these stop gap measures are becoming a permanent fixture.
Managers and supervisors can often conduct training, education, orientation, and ongoing monitoring of performance at least partially remote. Sales staff and their supervisors can operate almost exclusively in the field. One organization to which I spoke said they’ve asked all employees that can remotely work to continue 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the time allows for in person meetings on site, primarily to promote teamwork, and make sure all employees are engaged and aware of each other.
Working remotely has consequences that ripple through an organization. For instance, the amount of office space needed to accommodate a given number of employees is greatly decreased. The concept of “office sharing” has increased exponentially. Several employees can share an office and take turns coming in a certain number of days of weeks. Staggering employees onsite schedules can save on how many square feet and how many desks an organization needs.
Some surprisingly positive statistics have come to light during the pandemic. These include:
- In the US, at least 60% of all employees report that they work remotely at least some of the time. This is expected to increase to 80% of all employees by 2023.
- Working remotely is significantly more common in urban areas compared to suburban or rural areas.
- The higher the salary, hourly rate, or wage, the more likely the employee is to be working remotely.
- Generally speaking, the younger the employee, the more they enjoy and prefer working remotely.
- 77% of remote workers feel they are more productive working remotely than on site. More surprising is the fact that 60% of supervisors, managers, and owners feel their employees are more productive working remotely.
- “Better work/life balance” is cited by employees as the most important reason/incentive for working remotely.
- Remote workers save an average of $3000-4000/year in expenses associated with commuting, childcare, etc.
- Remote workers save their employers an average of $5000-6000/year in expense related to various office perks, square footage, and office supplies.
Of course, the positives are not the entire picture. Some of the challenges include:
- IT professionals generally agree that there are unique and increased security risks associated with employees working remotely. It is obviously much easier to secure an office network than far flung remote employees logging in from all over the country.
- 25% of all remote workers report getting absolutely no ongoing training from their supervisors and managers.
- Workers struggle with the inability to unplug after work. Working in an office 9am to 5pm (or whatever hours you are working) lends itself well to shutting off the computer, putting the phone on voicemail, and leaving the office. Working remotely blurs these lines and makes it a little more challenging to “punch out for the day.”
- 30% of remote workers report some degree of isolation or loneliness compared to going to a workplace.
The caricature of millennial employees telling their older, baby boomer co-worker “You are on mute, Steve” during a Zoom meeting has some basis in fact. Younger employees tend to embrace and enjoy working remotely more than older—shall we say “seasoned” -- employees. But the truth is, whether we like it or not, working remotely --in any industry—seems to be the wave of the future and seems to be here to stay as well.
As an industry, we have a lot to consider when it comes to allowing workers to continue working remotely. The Covid pandemic has pushed the issue to the forefront. It might be time for your organization to take a hard look at the benefits and pitfalls and start thinking about how to address this cultural workplace issue and embrace the inevitable change that is sweeping through the workplace.