The coronavirus is a terrible public health threat, but there is a hidden upside: It gives us a chance to rethink how work is organized and bring our policies into the 21st century. To protect their workforce, firms and organizations are asking people to work at home. Recent research shows that more flexible work policies that give workers more control over when, where, and how they work do not hurt business performance. Instead, such policies can lead to less stressed, more satisfied employees who are less likely to quit. And, our rescuer amid the coronavirus threat, is the Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
What does it mean to work-from-home?
It is now considered “ages ago”, the time the personal computer was invented. Commentators of the time predicted that our jobs would eventually be emancipated from the office, and home would be the thrilling future of work. This week, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people are taking refuge from the coronavirus. Not all, to be sure. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29 percent of Americans can work from home, including one in 20 service workers and more than half of information workers. So while servers are still manning the restaurants, the technology sector has effectively gone remote. Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Airbnb have all asked at least some of their employees to stay away from the office. The coronavirus outbreak has triggered an anxious trial run for remote work at a grand scale. What we learn in the next few months could help shape a future of work that might have been inevitable, with or without a once-in-a-century public-health crisis.
Even before the pandemic struck, remote work was accelerating in the U.S. The share of the labor force that works from home tripled in the past 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve. Two of the accelerants are obvious: living costs in metros with the highest density of knowledge workers, and technology, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, that moves collaboration and gossip online.
In the 2016 paper “Does Working From Home Work?” a team of economists looked at Ctrip, a 16,000-employee Chinese travel agency that had randomly assigned a small group of its call-center staff to work from home. At first, the experiment seemed like a win-win for workers and owners. Employees worked more, quit less, and said they were happier with their job.
However, we need to look at all sides of the equation. This is not an all good option, there are ups and downs to the home-based workers’ situation. Remote work does not work for most companies. That is due to the historical conditioning of the business practices. We spent the last 120 years learning how people can be productive in an office. The rise of the telegraph and the railroad in the late 19th century didn’t just give us retail, advertising, and mass distribution; it also gave us managerial capitalism middle managers, top managers, and modern hierarchies at corporate headquarters.
The 21st-century economy has already changed retail, advertising, and mass distribution. Perhaps inevitably it will also change work and management. To mitigate this, organizations will have to learn that remote work is different work. Managers will have to get better at judging productivity by setting and monitoring specific goals rather than using the proxy of office attendance. Workers will have to adopt extraordinary conscientiousness when it comes to dividing their day into deep work, office communications, personal time, and civic or family life. Employees will have to develop new habits, such as keeping copious documentation of every meaningful work interaction, so that teams across space and time are always up to speed on what’s happening “down the hall.” And bosses will have to normalize more video conferencing and corporate retreats, because their employees will continue to crave face-to-face interaction.
This is an opportune time for organizations to build out the kind of technology and culture that, when the economy is back to full force, we could make remote work easier for those who want to take advantage of it in a future where white-collar work might involve a little less commuting and a little more home.
Types of Jobs suitable for Home-based-Work.
Just a few decades ago, the vast majority of work-at-home job opportunities were far from profitable. And before the dawning of the Internet, it was much harder to sort through the scams and the real opportunities. But improvements in technology and the birth of social media have ushered in a new wave of such jobs that are actually legitimate. A 2017 study from Upwork and Freelancers Union even predicted that more than half of the workforce will do freelance work in the next decade, citing the fact that nearly 50 percent of millennials are freelancing already. The following are real work-at-home jobs for 2019 and beyond:
With so many businesses operating mostly, or even completely, online, it’s no wonder that many hire virtual assistants to help keep them organized and complete administrative tasks. According to the International Virtual Assistants Association, these workers are “independent contractors who (from a remote location, usually their home or office) support multiple clients in a variety of industries by providing administrative, creative, and technical services.” Although virtual assistant jobs vary drastically, tasks can include composing and responding to emails, creating and distributing business-related documents, responding to media and business inquiries, writing and creating content, and more.
Although many medical transcriptionists work for hospitals or physician’s offices, most are able to work at home, and at a time or place of their choosing. Since their tasks involve transcribing recorded medical dictation, a computer, desk, and earpiece are generally the only requirements after completing a postsecondary medical transcriptionist program.
Most translators do their work at home, and often under tight deadlines. Although some need a bachelor’s degree, the most important requirement for translators is, of course, fluency in at least two languages.
It’s fairly easy to build your own website if you take advantage of the many free learning opportunities online. However, much of the population isn’t equipped to build their own site, or doesn’t have the time, which is why so many people make a living building websites and blogs for others. Around 16% of web developers were self-employed in 2016, with the vast majority able to work at home, or anywhere with a laptop and speedy Internet connection.
Although the demand is expected to decrease over the next decade, the opportunities are still there for travel agents who can harness the Internet to earn clients and help them plan their adventures. According to the BLS, job prospects may be best for travel agents who offer expertise in certain regions of the world, have experience planning tours or adventures, or who focus on group travel.
More than ever, writers are needed to formulate news articles, create content, and come up with the creative ideas that fill the pages of nearly every site on the Internet. And although many bigger sites have in-house writers, a growing number of sites outsource their content and hire freelance writers and content creators. Writing experience is very helpful, but what you really need to get started are drive, ambition, and the ability to find a unique angle on events that happen every day.
Social Media Manager
Almost every big business has gotten on the social media bandwagon as a means to reach their customers directly, and without paying heavily for television, print, or radio ads. But not every big business has someone to manage their social media accounts, which is why more individuals have begun marketing themselves as social media managers and helping businesses grow their online following and expand their reach.
A wide range of businesses need workers to enter various data into their systems, whether that data are used to track inventory or shipments, create business plans, or measure performance or output. And since a computer and typing skills are the most important requirements for this job, many data entry workers are able to work at home, and on a schedule that fits their lives.
Many businesses need workers who can answer the phone at all hours, assist customers, and process orders or deal with returns. But since more businesses are operating online, a growing number of these jobs are going to customer service workers who work at home. Being an at-home call-center rep requires a computer and may require specific software or equipment. A great phone voice helps as well, as does any experience in customer service, data entry, retail sales, or management.
Becoming a blogger is unlike any other work-at-home job in that you have to show up and build it yourself. Even worse, the vast majority of blogs make zero dollars for years as they grow and become established. In that sense, blogging isn’t much of a job at all.
However, there is a lot of potential for writers who are able to build an audience, grow their site, and find a way to monetize it and start earning an income. Some of the ways bloggers make money include affiliate advertising, sponsored posts, Google Adsense, and product sales.
With so many businesses operating mostly, or even completely, online, it's no wonder that many hire virtual assistants to help keep them organized and complete administrative tasks.
Some of the sources for our research
- Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan distinguished professor of work and organization studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Phyllis Moen holds the McKnight endowed presidential chair in sociology at the University of Minnesota.
- Their book, Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It, is available from March 17.