Sonoma County workers, employers see pros, cons working from home during coronavirus pandemic
For Erin Newton, the best thing about working from home during the coronavirus pandemic is getting to spend more time with her 1-year-old daughter, Brooklyn.
Since Newton no longer goes into the office, the 31-year-old sales representative for a computer parts distributor in Petaluma is free during her lunch break to take Brooklyn for walks around their Penngrove neighborhood.
Now that her workstation alternates between her kitchen counter, living room couch and back patio, the lines between work and personal life have become blurred.
“Work is something that’s always on my mind, instead of leaving the office at 5 o’clock and just forgetting about it,” she said.
For better or worse, workers like Newton and their employers are in the midst of an unprecedented work-from-home experiment underway at Sonoma County companies and across the country. It could permanently upend the nature of work for most white-collar professionals.
“It’s going to change how we look at work and how we work forever,” said Dion Hinchcliffe, a digital workplace analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino. “We’re just not going back to the way we were before this.”
Many employees are embracing this new reality. On top of enjoying their newfound work flexibility, they report being more productive doing their jobs at home. Others say that while they appreciate not commuting or having more time to exercise, they find the workday never truly ends and it’s nearly impossible to fully disconnect.
Businesses, meanwhile, say they’ve been surprised by the smooth transition to remote work. Many are considering giving their staff the option to continue working from home even after it’s safe to return to the office.
“We are looking at this time as an opportunity to explore if we really need a traditional workplace model,” said Joe Madigan, chief executive of Nelson Staffing in Sonoma. “And the answer we’ve come to is no.”
Before the pandemic, the staffing and recruiting agency, which employs 250 people in the Bay Area, generally didn’t allow employees to work remotely. Madigan was unsure how the company would adjust to the circumstances foisted on employees in mid-March when public health emergency restrictions effectively shut down the local economy save for businesses deemed essential like grocers, banks and hospitals. But thanks to digital tools such as the workplace messaging app Slack and the now ubiquitous video-conferencing software Zoom, employees have had little trouble staying connected and getting work done, he said.
Now, Nelson Staffing is even considering hiring workers who could work entirely from home.
“We’ll leave that as an option: to hire the best qualified employee regardless of where they reside,” Madigan said.
As a whole, workers appear to prefer working from home. According to an April Gallup poll, almost 60% of employees working from home due to the pandemic would like to continue doing so as much as possible once restrictions are lifted.
Brooke Crane, 30, a graphic designer in Petaluma who works for a marketing agency in Vallejo, would like to see her company expand its work-from-home policy.
Since she’s been working remotely, Crane enjoys having more time to exercise and taking walks with her lab heeler mix, Lou. She said she’s also had an easier time focusing on her work assignments.
“I work well by myself when I don’t get distracted,” Crane said. “Sometimes you need to get in the zone, so if people in the office are talking or interrupting, it’s hard to get that creative flow.”