judge david langham 240538639

Quitting Remote

judge david langham 240538639
                               

In an indictment of remote work, the CEO of a business with 800 employees concluded that "'only the rarest of full-time caregivers' can be productive employees." That story broke in mid-April and offers some perspective on the challenges of remote work. Recently, the impact of virtuality on the Generation Z worker in particular was noted. See Generation Z Osmosis (April 2023).

According to its website, this business "create(s) best-in-class content to help consumers make informed decisions." And it is a business focused on "video, paid media, email, websites, display, social media, and more." This sounds like a business inextricably intertwined with computers and technology. The CEO claims, however, that "many remote workers didn't open their laptops for a month." He quantifies this as "dozens" at one point, and then is more definite with "30" in one month. One of those was apparently a manager.

The CEO likened this to Quiet Quitting (September 2022). That is a work mode in which one does only what is necessity and essentially disengages from the enthusiasm, progress, and achievement track. The quiet quitter does just enough to get by. We have all worked with a few of these over the years. The post in September included references that claim about 50% of workers now fall into this description.

What is quiet about a tech worker that does not access tech? That seems antithetical to quiet. The CEO has concluded that a return to the office will be better for the company. The current paradigm has had the workers telecommuting and will revert to an in-person paradigm "four days a week."

The CEO then reportedly ventured into the challenges of balancing work and home responsibilities. He addressed those who were balancing child care with work responsibility, noting some have perhaps "even mastered this art." However, he said, "Generally, this path is neither fair to your employer nor fair to those children." He concluded, "that only the rarest of full-time caregivers can also be productive and full-time employees at the same time."

That I do not know about. I have spent many days home with a sick child over several decades. I have been highly productive in that setting. However, the periodic interruption of the workflow can be distracting, and therefore the days are long. There can be frustrations with technology, and information access (I always forget some tool, paper, or detail at the office).

For this company, its foray into virtuality is not completely ended. It notes that some employees will remain in the virtual paradigm. However, the majority of workers will seemingly be returning to the "sticks and bricks" of a corporate environment. That this is in the news three years after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic struck so many with COVID-19 is intriguing. Certainly, many elected the remote work paradigm in March 2020, but it seems a great many have returned to the office since.

And yet, at the recent Workers' Compensation Forum, a presenter noted "most of you are working remotely," and a great many heads nodded in agreement. In the workers' compensation world, it seems, there remains a fair quantity of remote participants. I admit surprise at that. It had seemed to me that virtual had largely ended. I followed up with a couple of folks later in the conference. One asserted a persistent virtual work mode even before COVID. Another admitted to exaggerating and an actual practice that is more "hybrid" and includes both office and home work in what sounded like a reasonably accommodating and flexible manner.

In April 2023, the New York Times reported on statistics from the "The Labor Department." These statistics are interesting in terms of "recovery." It concludes that

"72.5 percent of businesses said their employees rarely or never teleworked last year, up from 60.1 percent in 2021 and quite close to the 76.7 percent that had no such work before the pandemic."

If you are really into the numbers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a reasonably simple equation that it has used to divine the telework component of American work. If you understand it, please write to me and explain.

This is indicative that the pandemic has not changed the world as we knew it. I am proud that the pandemic never changed the Florida OJCC even at its peak. This Office never closed, never stumbled, and never faltered. The judges, mediators, and staff of this organization were at work daily. I often heard questions about how we were adapting. We really did not adapt for the most part. We just persevered. That required resolve, but was mostly a result of tremendous people. 

And now, it seems to some that we have returned to a pre-pandemic, or close to it. Those who are studying the reactions, adaptations, and responses will no doubt find much to digest in the three years of data now at their disposal. We will undoubtedly see more from the academic realm in terms of quantifying and delineating what they discern. Papers will be written, trends studied, and hypotheses tested. 

But, it appears we know that telework boomed and has now subsided. The leaders of organizations have largely tired of the accommodation. They are satisfied that their ability to monitor remote work has been adequate, and that many prefer the workers return to a more traditional setting and more ready supervision. 

There will be debate and discussion as to which is best. And, I will likely take my own straw poll on this topic to see if there are contrary perceptions. 

By Judge David Langham

Courtesy of Florida Workers' Comp


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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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