Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top remote work concerns

Six months after states began issuing stay-at-home orders, many employees have settled into working-from-home routines that are likely to persist in some form beyond the pandemic.

But with that seismic shift comes concerns about productivity, fatigue and cybersecurity. Those issues are likely to become more prominent as a greater share of the labor force make remote work a long-term practice.

A record 49 percent of Americans reported having telecommuted in a Gallup poll released last month, and the average telecommuter spent nearly 12 out of 20 days working at home, up from just below six days the year prior. Among college graduates, 76 percent reported having telecommuted.

“Prior to [the pandemic], telecommuting and remote work was certainly practiced widely and was rapidly increasing, but this is a complete left turn in terms of the rapidness telework and remote work has been adopted,” Timothy Golden, a professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that has been studying remote work for years, told The Hill.

Several companies have embraced that shift, especially in the fast growing technology sector.

CEO Jack Dorsey made waves earlier this year when he announced that Twitter and Square employees could work remotely indefinitely. Facebook, Amazon and Google have all extended work from home policies for their white-collar employees through the end of the year.

But tech isn’t the only industry making changes. Deutsche Bank last week set an office return date of July 2021.

However, some companies have resisted embracing remote work.

JPMorgan Chase told many of its senior sales staff and trading employees to return to offices starting Monday. CEO Jamie Dimon reportedly complained in a meeting that remote work has reduced output for the Wall Street bank.

Other companies have noted drops in productivity, with many of them tying the decline to fatigue associated with working from home for several straight months.

A recent survey of 2,000 remote workers found nearly three-quarters reported digital overload from working at home.

“When working from home, we tend to use multiple devices simultaneously,” business consultant Holland Haiis commented on the study. “This not only causes greater digital fatigue, it increases eye strain, and we tend to experience brain fog much earlier in the day.”

Some executives, like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, have also lamented the lack of in-person meetings and collaboration brought about by remote work.

A survey of 50 business executives in the U.S. released by design firm Vocon last week found 40 percent of them seeing decreases in productivity, a clear shift from when nearly 60 percent rated productivity as “excellent” in April.

“That was a really big indicator for us that things were starting to fracture,” Megan Spinos, director of strategy for Vocon, said of the poll. “Companies were having a really hard time keeping their culture together and a really, really difficult time onboarding employees.”

Without the built in breaks from work that come from commuting and spending time around others in an office, employees working from home also seem to be spending more time on the clock.

“[Workers] need to think carefully about setting boundaries around their work and their work hours so that they don’t get burned out,” Golden explained. “Managers in organizations have to set expectations for their employees to say, ‘Hey, you know we don’t necessarily expect you to work 24/7.’ ”

Another major concern about remote working has been cybersecurity.

With so many employees working from home and still accessing company files and servers, businesses are more vulnerable to threats.

“As the world is working from home, it’s increased what we call the attack surface of any given organization,” Michael Tiffany, co-founder of cybersecurity firm White Ops, told The Hill. “I’ll just speak for myself — my home Wi-Fi router is now part of my company’s infrastructure.”

For those who have made the shift to remote work, either by choice or through necessity, the normalcy of working outside the office is likely to extend beyond the pandemic to some extent.

“Already I’ve seen many companies deciding to work remotely on a more permanent basis,” Golden said. “Even for those companies that return to more traditional in-person offices, I see those companies adapting hybridized workloads where some of their employees may work remotely full time … and even those employees that return to the office may well engage in a hybrid work mode where they will spend part of the workweek in the office and part of it working remotely from home.”

Tags COVID-19 cybersecurity work redefined

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