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Remote Control, Part 1

Home, home again; I like to be here when I can … — from “Time,” by Pink Floyd

Let’s be clear: I find it exceedingly difficult in bringing myself to say that anything even remotely positive came out of the nightmare pandemic from which we seem to have emerged (knock wood). It’s hard to talk about silver linings in the aftermath of such widespread devastation to such a vast number of victims in so many forms—physical, psychological and economical.


Still, I would be sadly remiss in my role as commentator if failed to point out a favorable upshot: a significant number of middle managers (including construction estimators) have continued to work from home voluntarily after being compelled to do so by the now-subsiding contagion. And while the estimated percentage of the work force operating remotely is down to 27% in 2021 (as opposed to 42% in 2020), that’s still 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels, a remarkable net gain. What’s more, surveys now predict that the percentage of neophyte remote workers (baby Zoomers?) will more than double over the next couple of years. Why? Because employees, having had a taste of the obvious advantages of working from home (aside from minimizing the spread of disease), have apparently undergone a shift in mindset from necessity to preference. Furthermore, many progressive employers are more than willing to accommodate that preference.


Employees are especially attracted to the new arrangement for a number of easily identified reasons. Elimination of wasted windshield time for commuters, proximity to family and flexible on-task periods head the list of favorites among baby Zoomers, while employers now point to surveys that claim a rather surprising uptick in productivity among remote workers. Of course, as with everything, there are some negative aspects of this coming phenomenon, such as home distractions and lost connectivity with colleagues. And some skeptical employers remain doubtful about an upturn in productivities, but such touches of gray in this silver lining seem to be blown away by the pro-remote enthusiasm that baby Zoomers now exhibit.


I can personally attest to some of the employee benefits of remote work, as I have experienced them firsthand. You see, my superiors wisely had our entire estimating department pack up their hardware at the inception of the pandemic (has it really been two years?), and I’ve been working from home, off and on, ever since (now as a freelancer, or digital nomad). And from that very first day, it was the elimination of a one-hour (each way) commute that really blew my doors off. Cliché acknowledged, I felt like I got 10 hours of my life back, every week. It has become a riddance of multiple values. The wasted time savings alone is a windfall factor that, even by itself, makes the case for remote work. Time previously spent fighting traffic and cursing other commuters can now be invested productively (more time on task) or for better R&R (an extra hour of good REM sleep) that recharges the cranial batteries. Either way, it benefits the employee and the employer alike. This is not to mention the monetary savings we virtual bidmeisters enjoy—a savings that only increases as the price of gas continues to soar and the cost of maintaining a vehicle constantly threatens a fragile budget. All of this, in addition to the positive impact on air quality that the reduction of traffic portends, makes elimination of windshield time numero uno among remote workers.


But nearness to the family ranks a close runner-up in beneficence to eradication of the commute among baby Zoomers. Just the full-time presence of an (or another) adult or parent in the household has its benefits in the form of structure and security. But consider the value of having that adult in attendance when another family member is ill (as was common during the pandemic) or otherwise incapacitated and in need of minimal assistance. The additional presence in these cases is inarguably priceless.


Another benefit of remote working lies with the concept of flexibility regarding time on task. We all have personal issues that arise during the work week that must be addressed. Doctors’ appointments, for instance, used to rob us of a full day of office attendance, given the commute time required. Remote working allows us Zoomers to take a couple of hours off, midday, and still put in a full day on the tail end. Or, one can now make up a missed weekday by working a Saturday, if need be. In any case, the distance between home and a brick-and-mortar office no longer has to impose on the need for freedom in time allocation.


And while some employers remain skeptical of the remote concept (mostly due to lack of direct oversight), recent advances in teleconferencing, regular onsite meetings (weekly) and recent stats that suggest significant gains in productivity among remote workers have many employers now acquiescing in favor of remote work.


Next month: Virtual bidmeisters weigh the pros and cons.

Vince Bailey is a digital nomad/estimator in the Phoenix area.

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