Remote Work: Luxury or Necessity?

Tab Townsell Commentary

Remote Work: Luxury or Necessity?

For years, telecommuting was seen by many as an unattainable luxury. Forward-thinking companies would tout their so-called unconventional work arrangements to lure prospects yearning for greater flexibility, reduced distractions and better work-life balance.

Today, remote work is no longer considered an added job perk. It’s widely recognized as a workplace necessity — both by employees and employers — and not simply because of social distancing measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is an Opinion

We'd also like to hear yours. Leave a comment below, tweet to us at @ArkBusiness or
email us.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 only 7% of civilian workers in the United States had access to a flexible workplace. These individuals primarily included highly paid, senior-level employees such as managers or white-collar professionals from large corporations.

Currently, the Brookings Institution reports nearly half of American employees, from a wide swath of industries, are working from their homes or remote locations. As recent surveys showed, this trend is expected to continue, even after COVID-19. A Gallup poll noted 3 in 5 workers who have been doing their jobs from home would “prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible.” Forbes said nearly 1 in 5 chief financial officers planned to keep at least 20% of their workforces remote as part of ongoing cost-containment efforts.

As with any societal shift, there are potential downsides. Permanent telecommuting can present managerial challenges and could cause professional isolation or stunted career development for employees. Businesses, particularly those in rural areas without reliable internet access, may find it financially unfeasible to invest in the required technologies or equipment. And for certain forward-facing industries like restaurants or manufacturers, remote work is simply not an option.

But when implemented smartly, telecommuting offers clear long-term advantages. Companies can save significantly on overhead costs by consolidating workspaces or reducing real estate and rent costs. They can often more effectively recruit and retain employees, including younger workers who prefer flexible work arrangements over traditional office environments. As the American Psychological Association noted, remote work can also help boost workers’ productivity and their overall job satisfaction.

Take the impact of telecommuting on central Arkansas as an example. Since 1972, Metroplan has worked hand-in-hand with local governments, the Arkansas Department of Transportation and transit providers to build the most efficient regional transportation system possible.

A key piece of the puzzle? Remote work.

Each summer, Metroplan helps host Ozone Action Days, a public awareness campaign, to encourage residents to take voluntary emission reductions — from telecommuting to riding public transit — to help keep our region in compliance with federal air quality standards. Thanks to these efforts, central Arkansas is now consistently reporting reduced levels of ground-level ozone, which is known to cause negative health effects, especially among vulnerable populations. We’re seeing fewer cars on our roads, less wear and tear on our highways and, hopefully over time, less taxpayer money spent on quick infrastructure fixes.

COVID-19 may have temporarily forced companies’ hands on telecommuting. But Metroplan has encouraged these types of policies for years. And for good reason. As we’ve realized firsthand through our planning and outreach efforts, remote work is a long-term necessity for employees, businesses and the region’s health.

Tab Townsell is the executive director of Metroplan, an association of local governments and a regional voice on issues affecting central Arkansas, develops transportation plans required by federal law and convenes stakeholders to deal with common environmental issues for its members in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke and Grant counties.