May 5, 2020 - Economy & Business

The good and bad news about working from home during the pandemic

Erica Pandey, author of @Work

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Although many, many companies pulled off relatively seamless transitions to operating fully remote, workers are discovering unforeseen consequences of the sudden switch.

The big picture: This is not normal teleworking. Typically, employees aren't caring for or schooling kids while on the job — and they're not prohibited from seeing friends, working from a coffee shop or going to the gym.

  • People are experiencing Zoom fatigue, as the in-person meetings and happy hours of yesterday have been replaced by ceaseless calendar invited to join video calls, writes Axios' Scott Rosenberg.
  • Parents — who make up around one-third of the U.S. workforce — are dealing with unprecedented stress and exhaustion.
    • At the end of March, 57% of mothers and 32% of fathers of kids under 18 said their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, per a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

There could also be longer-term consequences of this grand experiment in remote work, experts tell Axios.

  • It could lead to an increase in outsourcing. "If a job can be done remotely by a worker in the U.S., it can also be done remotely by, says, a worker in India or China," says Brookings' Sawhill.
  • And we don't yet understand the effect of telework — particularly at such a massive scale — on productivity. Past studies have reached conflicting conclusions as to whether working remotely leads people to be more productive, with some finding that staying home helps workers and others reporting that it leads to disengagement.

At the same time, companies are coming up with innovative ways to ease employees' discomfort and pain as they navigate working while quarantined.

  • Harvard's Choudhury, who has spoken to chief executives at companies around the globe about the shift to remote work, tells Axios that firms are using teleconferencing as the new community gathering spot, hiring DJs for virtual dance parties or fitness instructors for group workouts.
  • There are also companies attempting to help working parents by offering virtual homework help for the kids, he says.

The novel coronavirus is also accelerating the adoption of certain workplace benefits that were already on the rise, reports Fortune, citing survey data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

  • More firms are adding online therapy sessions and telemedicine services: 72% of employers provided telehealth benefits in 2019, compared with 86% after the coronavirus crisis began.
  • Around half of employers are offering to reimburse certain remote working costs, like new monitors or boosts to internet speed.

Go deeper

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day, prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Even with early curfews in New York City and Washington, D.C., protesters are still out en masse. Some protesters in D.C. said they were galvanized by President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church on Monday and threat to deploy U.S. troops in the rest of country if violence isn't quelled, NBC News reports.

Updated 16 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump backs off push to federalize forces against riots

Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

A day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios.

What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.

What we expect from our bosses

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Workers — especially millennials and Gen Zers — are paying close attention to the words and actions of their employers during national crises, such as the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Why it matters: American companies have an enormous amount of wealth and influence that they can put toward effecting change, and CEOs have the potential to fill the leadership vacuum left by government inaction. More and more rank-and-file employees expect their bosses to do something with that money and power.