Remote work is the new standard in a rapidly changing world. This involves employees running operations in non-traditional office environments like their homes or in an area miles away from their employer1. As of this writing, there is a rising surge in companies indefinitely2 shifting their workforce to a work from home setup. The trend of working remotely is quickly increasing across many industries from education to medical, even if it is only a portion of that workforce4.
How Different Sectors Are Doing It Now
Big educational institutions have long been providing online courses and distance learning programs. Other industries like technology and customer service are no strangers to remote work as well. It’s only recently that other companies, schools, and services (e.g. banking, finance, and healthcare) have taken the technological leap to remain operational in the new normal.
We are not new to this setup since we’ve been supporting our clients remotely, but it’s only recently that many practices and healthcare facilities begin adopting the virtual setup. Missouri-based EHR vendor, Cerner, instituted work from home (WFH) policies for non-critical employees, yet kept their offices open for those who need to be physically present. Even the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages remote and flexible work arrangements for support staff (e.g. administrative, IT) along with the optimization of telehealth.
Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter take the same measures to mobilize their workforce in the technology-reliant “new normal”. Financial aids are also granted to ease transitioning to WFH and other funds for job loss and sick leaves. The possibility of adapting remote work long-term is not far off as the pandemic has made workers more inclined to work from home5.
Benefits of Shifting to Remote Work
More organizations are seeing the benefit of remote work because of its cost-effectiveness, better employee retention and productivity, and higher applicant pools. Remote work has resulted in an increase in job applicants after it opened opportunities for people with disabilities, chronic illness, minorities, and people who live in rural areas and are unable to relocate for work. This trend has also provided cost-efficient staffing solutions for the persisting manpower shortage in the healthcare industry. Virtual medical assistants augment the strained workforce by providing administrative, telehealth tech support, and remote monitoring services for practitioners so they can focus more on the patient’s needs.
Reports also show a higher productivity rate as more employees claim to be more comfortable and experience fewer distractions. Leave requests are also on the decline as work-life-balance becomes more achievable. Remote work has led companies to allocate more funds to cost-efficient initiatives like office supplies stipend or a health fund9.
Challenges in a Remote Workforce
A remote workforce is not without its own challenges and shortcomings. A good example for this is the healthcare industry. Not all work in the hospital or clinic setting can easily shift to remote work unless an employee’s role is suited for remote work, such as reception and administration or back-office. If practitioners can shift to remote work, PHI security becomes a concern and patients are often concerned how well protected their information is online. Even with HIPAA standards in place, setting up additional safeguards in the infrastructure, equipment, and workflow can make a more reliable space in handling PHI.
Other challenges like limited internet connectivity, burn out, lower salary, and stunted job progression have also emerged. Not everybody has internet access at home, while some expressed difficulty in establishing or re-establishing work-life balance. People also tend to work longer hours, leaving little to no time to wind down. This also applies to those who look for more diversity in their work as repetitive tasks can cause burn out. Salaries could also be at stake in light of Facebook’s announcement of offering employees the option to shift to WFH permanently at the cost of reduced salaries11.
Skill development is placed on the back burner in a remote work setup. Employees looking for job progression are unable to train on specific skills needed for certain career maps or opportunities. Virtual “face time” compared to physical presence in an office is also harder as employees can’t easily gauge interaction or create a smoother information workflow12.
Remote work is not an absolute solution to running a business in our changing times, but rather a logical solution to the current demands of today. The digital era has paved the way for telecommuting to work and be effective and one needs to weigh its pros and cons and its impacts on your practice while prioritizing your safety and employee wellbeing.