Released August 2020
Despite ongoing uncertainty related to COVID-19, it seems likely that many of us will continue to work remotely in the short-term, and perhaps longer. The challenges of working from home are well-documented by the media and pepper our daily conversations with colleagues, friends, and family.
This summer, a survey of the AIR community sought insight about the experience of working from home. Results showed that 75% or more of the respondents were satisfied with their ability to access data and files, disseminate information, connect with colleagues,
and conduct work in a timely manner. However, more than a third of respondents were dissatisfied with their ability to maintain a normal schedule or stay motivated (Table 1).
|How satisfied are you with your ability to:||Very/moderately dissatisfied||Neutral||Very/moderately satisfied|
Connect with your work files remotely
Connect with institutional data sources remotely
Connect with office/unit colleagues
Conduct your work in a timely manner
Connect with institutional stakeholders
Adhere to a normal work schedule
This significant shift in work style also afforded new opportunities that many members of the AIR community embrace. The combination of time gained from not commuting to the office and flexibility in work hours allows IR/IE professionals to focus on self-care, foster healthier habits, and spend more time with loved ones. The ability to incorporate errands and household chores into the workday enhances those benefits.
In addition to personal benefits, working from home provides professional advantages, too. Better physical environments, more efficient use of meeting time, fewer distractions during the workday, and the ability to take advantage of online professional development are particularly valued.
“When [I am] working and need to step away from the desk to clear my head from entanglement in some seemingly intractable problem, engaging in totally unrelated activities for fifteen minutes - like household chores or floor exercises - leaves me feeling better about some small aspect of my life and gives me the confidence to return to the work problem.”
"[I lack] motivation…due to the absolute mess that is the world right now. It's that whole 'you're not working from home, you're at home during a pandemic trying to get some work done' meme."
These unexpected opportunities do not mitigate the challenges of remote work, however. Although some people experience fewer distractions at home, others face more distractions, especially family-related logistics. Sharing space with adults who also work remotely and/or managing children’s schooling and activities are barriers to efficiency. And while the physical environment may be more pleasing at home than at the office, many people do not have the proper infrastructure to support their work (e.g., insufficient Internet bandwidth, non-ergonomic equipment, lack of dedicated workspace, etc.).
Some individuals are experiencing mental health-related challenges they attribute to working remotely. These include low motivation, difficulty maintaining work-life balance, and anxiety related to uncertainty about the future, including job security. Isolation caused by the pandemic, and feelings of disconnection from colleagues are exacerbated by the stress of world events.
Communication with colleagues is a persistent challenge, especially due to the lack of in-person and unscheduled conversations. Even though many people can access the data they need and disseminate information to others, as noted in Table 1, context is often lost, and processes can take a long time.
Suggestions for overcoming these challenges reflect the advice we give each other regularly, regardless of the pandemic: establish boundaries between work and personal lives, set routines, be kind to oneself, take breaks, and prioritize physical wellness. But perhaps even more important now is the need to limit time in front of screens and to afford each other grace as we navigate a path that is extending much farther than most of us expected.
"[There is] loss of context because there's none of the serendipitous contact that often reveals either a good question or valuable information."
"I've worked on my communication skills since we often have limited time to convey our ideas to others, or we are constrained to communicating via email. The need to be precise and clear in communication is even more apparent now."
Survey details: AIR was interested to understand the experience of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. In June 2020, a survey was administered to 200 individuals; 105 people responded (53%).