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Seven months later: Will remote work continue after the pandemic?

(TECH NEWS) Now that many of us have grown accustomed to remote work whether we like it or not, can we expect it to stick around in post-COVID life?

A woman holding a baby on her lap doing remote work.

As the world gears up for month 7 of the Coronavirus pandemic (you know the one), many remote workers are considering the possibility that they will have to work from home for the foreseeable, interminable future.

But is remote work really a viable avenue once all of this is over?

A simple answer eludes us. Publications such as Forbes view remote work’s problematic presence more of an inevitability to be tolerated, while independent sites like Sean Blanda pontificate that normalizing remote work will expedite globalization of American jobs. Regardless of the lens, both sides of the spectrum seem comfortable admitting that there is a lengthy list of both pros and cons for working from home in the future.

The question, then, becomes this: What will be most effective in years to come?

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While one right avenue isn’t clear, what is clear is the set of circumstances that could invoke widespread remote work. Another pandemic, for example—or the natural extension of this one—may very well push employers to adopt distanced work environments. Similarly, high population density or overly expensive real estate influxes could easily bring traditionally in-office occupations to their knees.

Absent these problems, it seems highly unlikely that businesses will pivot to entirely remote options—unless pressure from employees convinces them otherwise.

The fact remains that many people find remote work, as a concept, desirable. Whether this desire stems from lack of experience with remote work or an aversion to office culture, there’s no denying our obsession with working from home.

And, when you factor in a dramatic cut in travel expenses and some of the unhealthier choices one tends to make when in an office all day, remote work starts to look like a viable long-term option. As long as you’re able to keep your benefits.

Of course, remote work is not without its fair share of problems. From decreased one-on-one contact with superiors and colleagues to reduced (read: nonexistent) collaborative opportunities, the remote space is a lonely row to hoe. Coworking spaces can help make up for this fact. But at that point, remote work isn’t really “remote” so much as “relocated”.

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Even industries that involve large amounts of what one might incorrectly identify as socialization—teaching, for example—don’t translate particularly well to the remote medium. Anyone who has attempted to perform collaborative or social responsibilities online will tell you that the experience feels artificial and unproductive. These traits hardly make for a fulfilling career.

Another problem with remote work, necessary as it may be, is the perception thereof. Many view remote occupations as being synonymous with the gig economy: temporary, outsourced, and often lacking in substantial benefits or ascension opportunities.

It seems all too reasonable to assume that those perceptions could follow employees who shift to distanced working regardless of their prior environment.

Sadly, it’s too early to say whether or not we’ll see a significant upward tick in the prevalence of remote work for now. In a post-COVID world, there’s a substantial argument to be made for both sides. Until the time for those arguments arrives, though, we’ll have to keep guessing.

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Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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