Are You Working Virtually These Days?

Posted by Vivian McNeil on

Talmudic sources state that the creator brings the medicine before the sickness. I believe that this is relevant to the direct relationship of the establishment of the internet and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people were not able to work during the pandemic, yet many others were, thanks to apps like Zoom and the fact that much of a day’s work is done on the computer these days. Benefits of working from home became apparent during this period, especially for those who could continue their professional duties without missing a beat. Whether you are an accountant, a vice president of an IT corporation or a seller of quality plastic bags, there is good chance you were sitting in front of your computer this year and not in your chair at your regular office. 

Although there are many jobs that will not go virtual, such as in restaurants, supermarkets and the like, professionals such as accountants and IT specialists are finding an office away from the office- at home. Large corporations such HSBC bank are downsizing their office space since the pandemic, signifying the benefits of working from home. Even bankers working with large capital are able to transfer funds right from the comfort of their own homes. 

Tara Singer is an experienced Certified Public Accountant who works for a mid-sized firm. Working there for many years she has earned the trust of her employer thereby having the advantage of working at home since the beginning of the pandemic. Being the mom of school age children, in the past she was only able to work from ten to two, with almost two hours of traveling both ways as added wasted hours. Tara is the type of mom that wants to be home when her children come home from school even though by now, they are old enough to be latch key kids. 

Her day begins with opening the FedEx package that was left at her door the night before with all the papers that are needed to do her accounting work be it auditing, taxes or other complex tasks. Since Tara started working from home last year, she was able to increase her working hours to full time from nine to five. Her boss is very understanding and accommodating about Tara working from home and the advantages that she has from virtual tasking. As long as she sends back the work in a timely fashion there are no questions asked about when the work is being done. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they even allowed her twelve-year-old daughter to help her out and even paid her. 

Once the day's work is completed Tara may bind-up her papers with various color rubber bands. For example, black rubber bands for ongoing files, purple for those completed and seafoam bands for the next day’s workload. Accountants tend to be organized and the various color rubber bands make the files stand out on her desk to be easily recognized. Unlike at the office there is no filing away of papers since they are returned by FedEx promptly to the main office. This not only highlights the benefits of working from home but also the slight challenges of working from home when it comes to organization.

I asked Tara which way of working she prefers. Enthusiastically, she answered, working from home wins hands down. I inquired about all the distractions that home based working entails. She admitted I was right and intermittent carpooling sometimes happens before 5PM. At those instances she must work several hours in the evening to make up for lost time. Her children don’t mind since she is there for any of their needs when necessary and while they do their homework, she can do hers. Tara acknowledges that there is more of a fine line between work and family but everyone in hers recognizes the advantages of having their mom and wife at home and this security overrides any shortcomings of virtual employment. She said the only disadvantage she encounters is the extra garbage bags that are needed when she throws out her papers and she’s not sure if she can charge them to her company's account. 

We have met Tara, a professional woman and learned some details of her working from home. I was curious to hear a man’s viewpoint. I called a very friendly and cooperative relative, Andy Paver, to hear his point of view since he has continued working from home even after his office reopened about an hour’s drive from his home. 

Andy confessed that since his house has limited space, he chose to settle his home office in a small space in his youngest son’s bedroom. This space limitation is a common challenge of working from home. Since his son only uses his room for sleeping, even when he was zooming to his school classes, he was away from his room. His family became used to recognizing that Daddy was really at work even though he was in the house. 

The IT business can be a face-to-face industry. Between conferences and PowerPoint presentations, Andy was often out of town. Interestingly, he can teleconference now or of course as everyone else participates in zoom meetings. It is quite funny to watch him all dressed up for a meeting after freshly showering and shaving and putting on a clean suit, shirt and tie and then removing them after the session is done. His children are truly learning what working entails and do not have to wonder what Daddy is doing all day and how he makes a living. This aspect sheds light on the benefits of working from home and also the challenges of working from home regarding maintaining a professional demeanor.

Andy’s wife, Marcia commented that pre-pandemic, her husband left the house at the crack of dawn to get to the office before the crowd. He is extremely devoted to his job and takes it very seriously. She described to me that he spent little time at home except for weekends. Each time Marcia would suggest they look for a dining room set, he would put it off. One night, her son, Donny, disappeared with his father for many hours. When they came back, a beautiful dining room set was carried into the house. This major surprise occurred for two main reasons. One, being in the house all day caused Andy to realize how much this furniture was missing from their home. Secondly, Andy had extra time to check the various websites, such as Craig’s List to find just the right set to fit into the Paver dining room. This and other items continue to magically appear periodically as the Paver home gets redecorated. 

These two examples of professionals working from home are just two of many changing working habits that are happening in our city, country, and all over the world. Married couples with families enjoy the benefits of family life without losing out on any salary or vacation days. Children learn that their parents are working but still have the security of them being there as opposed to being home with a babysitter or nanny. 

The other members of the family learn exactly what their parents do for a living. There is no greater treat for a young child than to visit Daddy's or Mommy’s office. Previously, the child would have to take a day off from school on “Visit the Office Day'' to see where Mommy or Daddy work. Some professions are not explainable in theory. For example, ask a typical adult what an IT professional does. You will get multiple answers since it is such a varying field. Even a profession as straightforward as accounting can seem abstract to a child but if they see the computer screen in action, they can often begin to understand what is going on. Today’s kids are computer savvy and even something as complex as accounting can be understood at their level. 

Of course, there are several factors that will determine if individuals continue to work from home. Each company will have different views on this new phenomenon. Some organizations desire from their employees not only professional loyalty but long stays at the office for meetings and brainstorming. Employers want their players to know each other very well and personally interact with each other. Other companies are only concerned with the job getting done efficiently and if that means keeping their employees at home so it will be. 

Korn Ferry is a consulting firm that surveys people in the workforce. They conducted a survey recently to determine where people prefer working, at home or at the office. One of the main drawbacks of the office was the commute. 

For many employees, the workday often involves commuting and not every company can sustain their own bus fleet to shuttle around employees. In addition, the Korn Ferry survey pointed out that many people find their work settings unengaging. Countless surveys show that only about third one-third of employees say they are motivated at work. In the new Korn Ferry survey, nearly two-thirds, or 64% of responders, say they work more efficiently at home. 

As far as the professionals themselves it all depends on their motivation and their disciplinary skills including juggling personal problems at home with their vigorous working schedule. Personally, I think it’s a great idea and I am curious to see how the next generation will grow up and if they will be closer to their parents and the parents closer to their children. Hopefully then no parent will be surprised by a dreaded phone call from a teacher complaining about the scholastic or social behavior of their child. These parents will be monitoring their loved ones all along.

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