By Dana Yamashita

All across America, people are getting out of bed, getting ready for work (or at least putting on a clean shirt), and then walking into their home office, dining room, or wherever they have found a place to put a laptop. What many hoped would be a sprint has turned into a marathon of telecommuting. Video conferencing has become de riguer;  a comfortable desk chair is now a “must have” instead of a “nice to have,” and meetings are ending with “stay healthy.”

Telecommuting has been around for decades, but has not always been looked upon favorably. Some arguments against it are difficulty in tracking an employee’s hours, lack of collaboration when employees aren’t able to gather and brainstorm, and difficulty establishing a work-life boundary. However, the other side of the coin may produce employees who are more creative, more productive, and maintain a better morale than their cubicle counterparts.

COVID-19 has created a “watershed moment,” says Timothy Golden, a professor in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “For businesses that were reluctant to let employees work outside the office, they are now forced to change their beliefs about how work is conducted.”

And for employees concerned that continued telecommuting might affect their careers, Golden’s research has shown that isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of factors that determine the success of telecommuters, including whether or not telecommuting was customary at their workplace before COVID-19 or working additional hours from home. Golden’s study indicates that telecommuting is not a one-size-fits-all work arrangement. “Telecommuting arrangements are often unique, and differences in these arrangements must be understood and taken into account when determining how best to be successful,” he says. “This study suggests contextual factors are especially important to consider when determining telecommuting’s effect on promotions and salary growth.”

Further, the widespread need for telecommuting during the pandemic might help women in their career advancement as it becomes more standard. “There is some indication that remote work helps level the playing field for women in the workforce,” Golden said. “If men and women are working remotely, it’s not perceived the woman is working remotely just to handle family demands; it might be for preference.”

According to recent article by the Society for Human Resources Management, an April survey of 5,447 LinkedIn members indicated that 55% thought their industry could be effective with people working remotely. And 65% of those surveyed were confident in their own ability to be effective while telecommuting.

As the pandemic continues, and companies begin to extend telecommuting options or requirements, perhaps there will be another new “normal” of which we speak. And we’ll be speaking it from home offices.