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Opinion Editorials

Work from home – are we over it?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) Studies and C-suite are starting to suggest that 100% remote work is not where most of us want to be permanently.

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Employees working remotely with laptop.

In the spirit of playing devil’s advocate, can we talk for a minute about how working from home ALL THE TIME kind of sucks?

Sure, there are many great things about working remotely (Yay, no commute! Make a nice lunch! Yoga pants are now your daily attire!) but on the other hand… there is stuff you aren’t allowed to mention or complain about that can be somewhat entertaining to review.

This mostly applies if you have had the privilege to work remotely (because we recognize that that has not been the case for everyone). If anyone has lost their job due to the pandemic, they will immediately be upset with this article and our collective complaining, but here goes – for entertainment purposes, of course.

There is no division between work and home anymore.

Somehow you had to set up a “dedicated work space” in your home, but the effectiveness of work-life balance really depends on your home layout. If you live in a studio or 1-bedroom apartment, your computer and screen(s) are now on your kitchen table. If you had a spare corner in the dining room or even an extra bedroom, it is now your make-shift office.

You didn’t set it up with your motivational posters and family pictures because you had no idea how long you were going to be there. However, your work is always there and in your face, even if you’re trying to enjoy that new Netflix original.

You are single and/or you really enjoyed the collaboration and friendships you experienced at the office.

You may enjoy some of the alone time and TV to yourself now. But being completely cut off from your social outlets and work happy hours is a drag.

Your spouse has a whole lot more to say about your daily routine.

They tell you when to wake up, ask “when are you free?”, and want your attention if you’re not in a meeting. They can see what you eat all day and how you sneak chips in every day at 2:47pm. And man, forget making your own choices for lunch! You somehow have to compromise on what to eat, every time. And you definitely don’t get to go “out to eat” because that’s an unnecessary luxury now.

Your dogs need your attention every hour or so.

If you are on a quick break between Zoom or MS Teams meetings, your furry loved ones seem to sense it and get right into your space. In your best dog voice: “It’s time for a walk, it’s time for a walk, it’s time for a walk! No, I don’t care if it’s 103 degrees outside, it’s time for a walk. Yes, pet me, let’s go, oh I’m so happy you are home! Isn’t this wonderful?!”

You may have a child or children, and suddenly you are both their parent AND their educator.

The needs of our children can vary by age and number of siblings, but this is something we parents haven’t needed to manage alongside our daily work before. We were either stay-at-home parents or working parents with childcare arrangements. It seems near impossible to be BOTH of these identities at the same time, 24/7.

You feel like you’re in a constant state of failing: Either the parenting isn’t you at 100%, or your work doesn’t receive your full attention. It feels like a lose-lose and you know each day will bring the same juggling act. And to top it off, you’re not supposed to have play dates or take trips to visit loved ones to get a change of scenery or parenting support.

TechRepublic shares some results from an IBM study of 14,500 adults in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom; basically, fewer people want to work from home going forward. Not to mention that other countries have concerns about how their employers are handling health and safety as offices and hot spots open back up. Many also share concerns over their mental health from being cut off from their colleagues and the lack of teamwork. IBM says that mental health was the #1 factor influencing future working environments.

It seems it may be incredibly challenging to onboard new employees in a 100% remote environment as well. C-suite is considering why they do want to bring employees back. CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, says he sees no positive to long-term remote work and expects Netflix employees to come back to the office as quickly as they can – even if other tech giants have said they will have employees work remotely in a much longer term capacity.

The reality is, despite the good and bad parts of working from home, it does open the door for more flexibility. Many employees say they also don’t want to return to 5 days in the office per week. But many have said they would enjoy a balance between heading in and working remotely.

The thing is, we haven’t all just been “working from home” for the fun of it. We’ve been working remotely during a global pandemic, which brings with it a whole host of anxiety, worries, and feelings of uncertainty. It feels like a pendulum has swung to the extreme towards remote work. Hopefully it will work its way back to the middle – ideally letting people choose what works best for them and their families.

Yes, there is gratitude in the ability to work from home but it didn’t come with zero mental health costs.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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