These Remote Work Problems Are Here to Stay

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Any which way you turn in 2020, the world seems like it's falling apart. The economic crisis, the massive wildfires across the American West, the state of national politics, the failures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, all of them would be overwhelming on their own. They didn't spring out of nothing, though — in fact, each of them can be traced to systems, conflicts, and problems that were already in motion.

The same can be said, however optimistically, for the future of work. With millions of information workers now doing their jobs from home or otherwise away from an office, the benefits and drawbacks of networked offices and remote jobs have become apparent on a massive scale. An international team of researchers has just published a paper that seeks to anticipate some of the challenges our workplaces will face throughout the pandemic and long after.

Many of them have to do with managing and bolstering workers' mental health. Even before COVID, the workplace was often a place that shredded employees' mental health in a variety of ways (burnout, anyone?). Going forward, management especially will need to look out for remote-work issues like presentism (pushing through work even when you're sick and need rest), adverse reactions to loneliness, miscommunications due to lack of body and vocal cues, and reduced participation. Offices will also need to look out for increased surveillance from management that balances accountability with the right to privacy and autonomy.

We've all got to adjust our expectations and our processes around work while the pandemic remains a threat. The new normal is going to stick around for a long time after too.