The post-coronavirus world could see more employees working from home, analysis says

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been working from home, using virual meeting tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Slack video to connect with their coworkers. TV news people from Philedalphia advise to use front-lighting, headsets with microphone and bringing computer screens to eye-level. (Dreamstime/TNS) PHOTO CREDIT: Tribune News Service

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could sharply increase the number of people who work from home after it subsides, according to a new analysis.

Researchers at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, which had been monitoring the practice even before the crisis, said businesses have been forced to find a way to make remote work succeed.

“Surveys have shown that a lot of employers are opening up more to telecommuting,” said Liz Farmer, a fiscal policy expert who authored the study. “Others who hadn’t or wouldn’t have considered it or were worried that production might drop, they have now been forced to let their employees work from home.”

The result is more once-skeptical owners might embrace remote work, the study found.

In 2005, 3.6% of the American workforce did their jobs remotely. By 2010, that had jumped to 4.3% then 5.3% in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey analyzed by the Rockefeller Institute.

The pandemic should push that number even higher as the business environment evolves quickly in the aftermath of the crisis, Farmer said.

Most states are enforcing rules that prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people and nonessential businesses from operating.

Stay-at-home orders were a direct response to the quickly escalating crisis and the rising death toll in the United States and across the world.

“This has become a forced experiment,” Farmer said.

Some tech companies in Orlando have complied with stay-at-home orders by enhancing remote work capabilities.

Electronic Arts, which has about 700 employees in Maitland, Fla., has been monitoring coronavirus since January. In late February, the company eliminated most travel and began to encourage working from home. Now, only critical staff continues to work at its physical offices.

“As we take these steps for our Electronic Arts employees, we’re also very focused on minimizing any potential for disruption to our players,” a statement from EA read. “We are confident in our continuity plans. We don’t anticipate major changes in our games or services as a result of our teams working from home, but we’re learning through this process as well and patience will be key.”

“These are challenging times for everyone,” the statement continued. “We’re working to look after our employees and their families, and make sure we’re doing the right and responsible things to fight this pandemic illness.”

The ability to shift completely to remote working should come easier to companies such as Electronic Arts, Farmer said.

“More big companies are doing it, and they have the infrastructure for it,” she said. “If you are a company like EA, where people work across the globe, they are likely not having many in-person meetings anyway. The transition for companies like that to remote working seems to be a part of the natural flow.”

Farmer warns, however, that the pandemic’s extreme circumstances mean that a clear picture of how many people might end up working remotely afterward cannot be seen.

“This is not representative of what a normal work-from-home culture would look like,” she said. “A lot of the advantages — like being able to hit the gym or go to the library — those things are not available. No one in their right minds would take this and compare it to January.”

Marco Santana writes for the Orlando Sentinel.