Telework Can Be Mainstay If Broadband Gets Up to Speed

Experts say telework is here to stay, so long as broadband disparities are fixed.

Telework Can Be Mainstay If Broadband Gets Up to Speed
Aspen Institute's Shelly Steward

July 15, 2021 – As companies across the United States begin to open again, offices are preparing to make a crucial decision: to go virtual or implement a hybrid model.

But the decision may not be as clear-cut because connectivity has to be there to make a virtual work environment work, say observers, and some don’t have those advantages.

“They do not have the same job opportunities as those who do have access to broadband,” said Shelly Steward, director of the future of work initiative at the Aspen Institute during a virtual summit on Tuesday.

“If we want telework to be the future, this is critical to the process.”

Covid-19 provided an opportunity for companies to take the risk and redefine employees’ positions in order to provide the flexibility needed to work from home. “It was a forced experiment,” said Steward.

Steward said there are both benefits and challenges to digitizing the workforce. She said that telework allows for less routine and mundane work and that employees have said they feel safer and are more likely to be prepared if something comes up.

Resilience, Steward explained, was the benefit of digitalization. More money and time has gone into training and preparing employees for any kind of disruption, so they can continue to work. If there’s a natural disaster, another pandemic, or just a day-to-day life crisis, they will be prepared.

Michael Bailey, vice president at the Washington Department of Revenue, said during an event on the hybrid workforce at the summit that resilience was not “just in people but the organizations themselves.”

Companies were pushed to become flexible and accommodating in the process of shifting as many people as possible to home-based telework during the crisis.

However, during this shift, they were able to see the possibilities of positions remaining at home. Workers began to prefer working from home, emissions and office costs were reduced, and many people were able to better balance work and family roles.

“People will change their habits, and some of these habits will stick. There’s a lot of things where people are just slowly shifting, and this will accelerate that.” economist Susan Athey told the Washington Post last March.

However, Steward emphasized that “one size does not fit all.” She explained that many workers severely struggled this past year with professional isolation and may not approve of continuing this format. Inequalities can be exacerbated, Steward explained.

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