The Pandemic Has Shifted The Office To The Home, For Better And For Worse

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Assistant Vice President George Sample
George Sample is the assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the president-elect of the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management. [George Sample]
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A year ago restaurants were closed, shopping was limited to the necessities, and everyone was told to stay at home as much as possible. For many people, that meant suddenly having to rework the way they work. 

Take, for example, George Sample. For a year now, every day he wakes up, works out and then he takes a shower. After that, he rouses his kids, who do not want to be roused. He makes himself breakfast, usually oatmeal with blueberries. Then he gets dressed in what he dubs the “business professional of our day” – a dress shirt up top and jogging pants on the bottom. Finally, he walks down the hallway and logs in to his laptop. And that’s it! He’s at work. 

Sample is the assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and, like thousands of people worldwide, he has been working remotely for a year now. According to a Stanford University study, by last summer, 42 percent of the U.S. labor force was working from home. 

Sample has enjoyed his new office setup. His commute is much shorter – down the hallway – and he’s enjoyed spending more time with his wife and kids. He even took a couple midday breaks to go on bike rides with his wife, and he is especially fond of bugging his children while they are in Zoom school.

“For those of us who can just take our computer and work from wherever, life is good,” he told ideastream. 

Some lucky folks can even be found working from the beach or a cabin in the woods these days.

But what’s good for people at the top of the socio-economic ladder isn’t always that great for the rest of the workforce. Sample is also the president-elect of the Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management, and he said folks who live paycheck to paycheck are “really, really struggling.” 

“The pandemic in a lot of ways has been beneficial to those who are white collar and detrimental to those who are already vulnerable from a work standpoint, from a housing standpoint, from a food standpoint,” he said. “It’s just whichever direction you were going, it accelerated you going further in that direction.”

One year in, the COVID-19 pandemic has been shown to disproportionately affect minority workers who are often in frontline positions, like the hospitality or manufacturing sectors, who cannot be shifted to a safer environment. 

The pandemic has also placed a significant burden on women

Christine Nelson is the vice president of projects, site and talent at Team NEO, a local business development organization, and she said they’ve seen that trend play out locally. 

“We’ve seen women leaving the workforce, and that’s everything from entry level positions to C-level positions, where just – choices had to be made, and they’ve left the workforce,” Nelson said. “What we see more than that though, is just women really struggling to balance it all, starting their days at four in the morning so they can get work in before the kids have to be on online school, things like that.” 

In fact, despite some perks to working from home, burnout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is widespread. One survey by the Harvard Business Review found that almost 90 percent of people felt that their work life was getting worse since the pandemic started, and 62 percent were often feeling burned out. 

Part of the problem is that the shift to remote work blurs the lines between working hours and personal time in a way that is often detrimental to employees.

Megan Keeney, the local metro market manager for Robert Half, a white collar placement firm, said that since making the switch to the home office, she’s seen many employees working more than eight hour days and logging hours on the weekends.

And yet, Keeney told ideastream, “remote is for the future, it is here to stay.” 

According a survey by Robert Half, 75 percent of employees prefer to work remotely. 

Keeney predicts that more flexibility will be the future of the workplace. Perhaps the new-new normal will be working a couple days from home and a couple at the office.

She also said the pandemic has led to a cultural shift in the American workplace, one that has employers concerned about workers’ wellbeing, health and safety, and not just their productivity. 

“Not only are employees asking for it and demanding it but also what employers have realized is it works,” Keeney said. “As a society we can work remotely and get the job done.”

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