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The state of work: A look at the 21st century remote work migration

Graphic illustration of remote work
McKinsey & Company, a management consulting company, conducted the American Opportunity Survey, a study that “illuminates how many people are offered the option to work from home, who works flexibly, and how they feel about it.” (File Photos/

A moment in time report of post-pandemic remote work

By Leslie Chapman | Special to the Digital Free Press

As the global COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, many people were forced to work from home or “remote work.”

For nearly two years, employees learned to adapt to doing their jobs remotely. As American society emerges into a post-pandemic world, managers and employers are learning to adjust to this new normal — but what exactly does that look like?

McKinsey & Company, a management consulting company, conducted the American Opportunity Survey, a study that “illuminates how many people are offered the option to work from home, who works flexibly, and how they feel about it.”

According to the study, 58% of job holders in the United States — about to 92 million people, experts report — say they can work remotely at least part of the time.

“After more than two years of observing remote work and predicting that flexible working would endure after the acute phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, we view these data as a confirmation that there has been a major shift in the working world and in society itself,” the study states.

Karen Hjerpe is a college athletic director at Penn West California who had to work from home for nearly three months at the start of the pandemic.

There were many challenges that arose, she says, including issues associated with technology, accessing files, scanning and obtaining signatures. In addition, she said that coaches had a difficult time recruiting because they couldn’t show potential recruits the campus or go to see athletes compete.

“In April, we sign scholarships for all of our returning athletes,” Ms. Hjerpe said.

“What would become two minutes per athlete took, let’s just say a lot of minutes. Instead of me just walking out of my office and signing a form and giving it to our administrative assistant, our administrative assistant now had to create the form at home, scan it to me, then I had to review it with the different systems I had, then I had to print it, sign it, scan it back to myself and then resend it to her.”

It wasn’t until June 2020 that the athletic administration at Penn West California was permitted to return to the office. Their tasks were too difficult to perform at home partly because all of their files were located in the office, according to Ms. Hjerpe.

“I prefer working in person. I get more done,” she said. “I am focused on what needs to be done and all of my work is here in my office.”

As companies continue to try navigating a new normal, they must weigh their options about how to approach bringing employees back into the office, one business professor says.

According to ASU business professor Blake Ashforth, hybrid-working is becoming a very attractive model.

“People are home for a chunk of the week, and then come in for enough times,” Mr. Ashforth said. “They kind of counteract these problems of being forgotten.”

Mr. Ashforth said that working from home can feel pretty solitary, which is why he likes physically going to work.

“I like having lunch, like we just came back from lunch right now,” he said. “I love seeing my colleagues for hallway conversations, so I come in for that, that’s me. But that’s in the minority. The majority of people prefer the amenities of being at home.”

Long term, Mr. Ashforth believes that companies will more commonly adopt a hybrid model because it optimizes enough facetime for employees to feel plugged in without feeling the need to commute to work each day and have rigid hours.

“But who knows?” he said. “It’s a cool thing to be asking about now because this is very much up in the air.”

Editor’s Note: Ms. Chapman is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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