The coronavirus pandemic may accomplish what years of advocacy have not: making telecommuting available to more than a handful of workers and could revolutionize the way we educate our children.
U.S. Labor Department statistics show only 7% of the U.S. workforce had access to the option before the pandemic forced numerous offices to shut down, forcing workers into their kitchens, bedroom and living rooms – that’s 9.8 million of the nation’s 140 million civilian workers. Even so, those who had the option were more likely managers and other white-collar professionals.
Among schoolchildren, only 3% of U.S. children were homeschooled.
Telecommuting is seen as a good way to achieve work-life balance and generally has a positive impact on productivity. Another advantage is the impact on the environment – with less traffic comes a reduction in air pollution.
The private sector was more likely to offer telework as an option than the public sector – about 8.4 million private sector employees compared to 776,0.00 public employees.
But within the private sector, a Pew Research Center analysis indicates about a quarter of so-called knowledge workers – management, business and financial occupations as well as corporate executives, information technology managers, financial analysts, accountants and insurance underwriters – had access to telecommuting. Lower-paid workers are pretty much out of luck, largely because of the very nature of the jobs with only 1% of service-sector and construction workers able to do their jobs remotely.
A third of those in the insurance business had access to flexible workplaces, followed by 29% of professional and technical services workers and 16% in the information sector. Larger firms, those with more than 500 workers, were more likely to offer the option than firms with fewer than 100 workers, 12% versus 6%. New England was region with the highest percentage of telecommuters.
“I think this is a watershed moment for telework. It’s changing how people think about working outside the office, and its changing mindsets,’’ Timothy Golden, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told UConn Today.
“For businesses that were reluctant to let employees work outside the office, they are now forced to change their beliefs about how work is conducted. This crisis will accelerate the use of telework on a more permanent basis, and allow these teleworkers the ability to still remain an integral part of the workplace.’’
Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, president and founder of Gracefully Global Group LLC, predicted an upheaval in education as a result of the forced homeschooling now underway across the country.
“Children ages 5-18, now forced into homeschooling and distance learning, and will never see the daily task of going to school the same way again,” she told IBTimes. “Some will wonder why schools need to exist at all since knowledge, collaboration and instruction, with and without teachers, can be done remotely and via mobile phones.
“Others will learn how much they value the social aspect of public education. I believe that our children will totally reinvent K-12 education and improve on existing video conferencing tools.