Remote Life in the Covid-19 era

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I am sure that you have been reading and hearing a lot about remote work and remote education since the COVID – 19 pandemic began. I certainly have. In fact, I’ve been hearing about and talking about the pros and cons of remote work and education for most of my IT career.

I’ve been in IT for three decades so doing things – work, education, socializing, etc – in a remote manner has been a part of my life for some time, so there is some bias just so you know. This article contains both my opinion and some facts.

Arguments that I typically read or hear for why remote work and education do not work:

  1. Remote work doesn’t work:
    1. because I can not see my employees
    2. because you won’t work as hard unless you are on-site in the office
    3. because there are security risks (based on the type of work that you do)
    4. because we do not have the infrastructure ( laptops, remote software, etc)
  2. Remote education doesn’t work:
    1. because I can not see my students
    2. because you won’t work as hard unless you are in a classroom
    3. you need interaction with other students and you can’t get it remotely
    4. because we do not have the infrastructure ( laptops, remote software, etc)

This is by no means a complete list. Depending on what you do and where you live, this list could be very long. I captured what I seem to be the most common.

Here are my responses for each one of these:

Remote work doesn’t work because I can not see my employees

If you need to see your employees in order for them to do their job then you probably are not hiring the right people, to begin with. There are so many work environments where the employees are not working and the employer is in fact on site. This reason is probably more about who you hired and your management style than remote work. Ultimately, the results of an employee’s efforts should be how they are measured.

Remote work doesn’t work because you won’t work as hard unless you are on-site

There are studies that show that most remote employees work more when they are remote then they do while they are in the office. I am sure that there are exceptions. Studies aside, if you consider the time and sometimes stresses associated with commuting into work are no longer an issue when someone is working from home, you have an immediate increase in that person’s time to spend working and as well the improved quality of work because of the stress reduction.

Remote work doesn’t work because of the security risks (depends on the type of work that you do)

This one really depends on what you do for a living. Yes, there are some jobs where the work may be so confidential that entrusting someone to do it from home may be an issue. Although there is no such thing as 100% secure, there are reduced risks when an employee is on-site where there are known protocols in place such as requiring an ID to enter certain parts of a building where data is secured.

As opposed to a remote home environment where only the employee knows for sure what is or is not being seen by unauthorized parties. Some of these needs can be addressed by securing your Internet connection to the on-site location using a VPN. This basically encrypts all of the data that you send or receive from your office so that it can not be read even if it is intercepted.

Remote work doesn’t work because we do not have the infrastructure ( laptops, remote software, etc)

If your business or educational institution isn’t using computers and the Internet – and the reason is that the work does not require those things – then this article is likely not for you. However, if the reason is that they don’t want to use computers and the Internet then this is one of the most important parts of the article.

I often hear folks say that they do not have a computer or that they do not have Internet access or they do not have either. There is no silver bullet for this and it is an issue that quite frankly shouldn’t exist in the US in my opinion.

However, some of those same individuals have a smartphone with access to Facebook and Instagram and may not understand that a smartphone is a computer and that access to Facebook and Instagram is taking place over the Internet. It may sound strange but some folks look at smartphones as devices for making phone calls and sending text messages only.

If none of these tools – computer, Internet, smartphone – are available to you, then you should consider:

Remote education doesn’t work because I can not see my students

Providing that the instructor and student both have computers or smartphones, this should not be an issue. At a minimum, screen sharing applications like Skype or Facetime allow you to see and hear each other. If there is a need for more complex scenarios like large classes or the need to share screen there are many platforms like Zoom that have this functionality. I read that an educator used Instagram the first week following the stay at home orders in order to teach her class.

Remote education doesn’t work because students won’t work as hard unless you are in a classroom

A grade is a grade and if someone isn’t going to do the work, then they are not going to do the work, whether in a classroom or when remote. I have known people who admit that they are not disciplined enough to work on their own outside of a classroom, however, if there is no classroom and you want the education, then you do not have a choice. Students are already doing schoolwork at home, it’s called homework.

Remote education doesn’t work because you need interaction with other students and you can’t get it remotely

This is completely and totally understandable and depends on the teaching style of the instructor. And is also possible to do remote with some creativity. Gathering online using platforms like Facebook and Instagram for socializing is no different than gathering – on the same platforms – for learning. The only difference is the purpose.

Remote education doesn’t work because we do not have the infrastructure ( laptops, remote software, etc)

It’s hard to understand why every grade school in this country would not have a computer for every child. If you are attending a high learning institution, then chances are that you have your own laptop or smartphone. I’d be surprised if there are colleges that do not have computers for their staff.

Conclusion

In the end, remote work and remote education are not new. People have been using technology to work and learn for decades. Even prior to the Internet people worked and learned remotely – see the “Let’s Start at the Beginning” section – using mail and the telephone.

And while this isn’t new, for a lot of people it is different than what they are used to and that for many is the root of their challenge. Change your mindset and understand that although the way you do things may have changed, your objectives of earning a living or getting an education have not. Remote work, remote education, remote life is possible.

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2 Replies to “Remote Life in the Covid-19 era”

  1. This is a well-written, informative, and timely article, but it forces conscientious people to look at the other side of the issue. “Remote work, remote education, and remote life” is undoubtedly a growing reality in a fast-changing world. However, remote or telework is an advantage afforded only to white color workers, and understandably, that fact is no fault of those workers. Still, it is unfortunate that job structure prevents blue-collar workers and employees in the medical field, law enforcement, and especially those in the service industry from having the option of working remotely. The 6.6 million Americans who recently applied for unemployment benefits due to the stay-in-place rules imposed under the COVID-19 pandemic is a glaring example of occupational segregation, relevant to technology, that dictates who can and who cannot work remotely. Thank you for letting me express my observation on this subject.

  2. Those are great points thanks for sharing and for the kind words.

    I’d ask that you do further research on remote work being an “advantage afforded only to white color workers.”

    Traditionally I can see how you might think that but it’s not the case today. Customer service reps, data entry, and medical billing – just to name a few top of mind – all could be considered blue-collar. All are very popular remote work roles.

    Type of job, now that is another story altogether. Some roles – often referred to as essential – are onsite only.

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