by Cory Unrein
Valley News will focus on national employment issues and trends affecting our community in a series of "On the Job" articles. This week, we focus on the growth of remote work.
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our daily lives, but the workplace may be one of the most fundamentally changed. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many workers into remote situations on a temporary basis, a trend that was growing prior to 2020 has only grown in popularity. A FlexJobs report recently found that 58% of workers want to be full-time remote employees post-pandemic, while 39% say they want to work in a hybrid work situation.
Missouri appears to be answering to the demand, as a recent Monster.com study of their employment ads found Missouri in the top 5 states offering remote employment opportunities (Texas, California, Illinois, and Florida topped the list as well).
Valley News spoke with three local remote workers about their experiences and expectations in the quickly evolving workplace.
Zach McDaniel of Blue Springs is a teacher and coach at Grain Valley High School.
"I have worked remotely in some capacity as an online teacher for an education company and online adjunct professor of education and history for various colleges and universities nationwide. From March 2020 - June 2021, I became a full-time online instructor," McDaniel said.
“I enjoyed my independence and flexible schedule. I had a long lunch break that was anywhere from an hour to 2 hours long so I would go on a walk or do yard work outside to get my daily dose of fresh air. I loved most aspects of online teaching, but at times, especially in the later months of my remote work, it began to feel less and less like I was interacting with people.”
“Personal interaction is something I was definitely seeking and neglecting myself of. Initially, the remote work was a breath of fresh air, especially since I began in the beginning of the pandemic. But as the world returned to a bit of normalcy, my ‘day to day’ life stayed remote and that’s when I think it set in that remote work isn’t something I would want to do full time for the rest of my life.
While McDaniel missed the personal interaction one finds in a traditional work environment, he did enjoy the ability to interact with students and colleagues around the world.
"I really did enjoy the remote work for the timespan it was my full-time job. I got to interact with students and colleagues from not only all over the United States but worldwide as well. It was a great experience, but part time remote work is the right balance for me."
Samantha Clifford of Grain Valley also began working from home in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
"The second week of March 2020, they split us up into teams, and we were supposed to work in the office for a week and then rotate working from home. The very next morning we all got a phone call from our manager that there were possible COVID cases in our offices, and we have been working from home ever since," Clifford said.
Clifford works full-time for SS&C, formally DST Systems.
"I am a financial operations specialist. We manage the upkeep of client information and process mutual fund trades. Your basic boring data entry."
“I am your cliche introvert so I love being in my own space all the time. I do miss my work friends. But I enjoy my own space and just doing my work. I also love not having to make the drive to downtown Kansas City. I’ve saved so much money on gas.”
Lacy McClain of Grain Valley is a quality assurance business analyst who has worked from home for a series of employers since before the pandemic began.
McClain had been working from home since October 2019, so when the rest of her co-workers were called to the office in March 2020 to prepare to work from home, she was already set.
“Other people had to rush to office and figure it all out. Every few months month we would meet to talk about a return to the office, but there was always something popping up (masks and social distancing, remote schooling, etc.) that kept it from happening, so we never returned to the office,” McClain said.
McClain left the job in October 2021 after remote work opened up a series of new opportunities.
“I’ve been fortunate in the opportunities that remote working has opened up, with businesses coming to me from other states that may not have sought me out otherwise,” McClain said.
McClain was subsequently recruited to join a local company with a significant pay raise.
Early concerns about worker productivity seem to have been unfounded, with several recent studies indicating productivity has increased among those working from home.
A Stanford University study of 16,000 over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. The same study indicated workers reported improved work satisfaction and attrition rates were slashed by 50%.
Clifford believes she provides better service to clients while working from home.
“If there’s an issue, I can quickly grab my laptop and figure the issue out. Working in an office, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” Clifford said.
McClain agreed she has experienced an increase in productivity while working from home. The typical distractions from other co-workers are mostly eliminated.
“In an office, when you get up to run to the bathroom, a co-worker will stop you to chat or some other distraction will pop up. Most of that is eliminated when you work remotely,” McClain said.
When businesses began sending workers home in March 2020, many were unprepared and unsure how to equip a remote workforce. Two years in, many corporations have developed plans to help make working from home more comfortable and efficient.
"For the first few weeks maybe a month we were using our own laptops and remoting in, which was a hassle, but it worked. Now we have work laptops that they provided. They provide any extra office equipment like an extra monitor, mouse, or keyboard. I actually bought myself a really nice office chair at the beginning of the pandemic, but I ended up working 100% of time in my living room, just in a regular living room chair with a laptop desk on my lap," Clifford said.
“My employers provided with me internet reimbursement and free subscriptions for Zoom premium and our learning management platforms (LMS) which were either Canvas or Blackboard,” McDaniel said.
McClain said that onboarding with a new company as a remote employee presents new challenges.
“Remotely onboarding is so different. Equipment was shipped to me that I couldn’t log into, which meant hours on the phone to figure out. My role required secret clearance and fingerprints, which are big challenges to complete and submit paperwork remotely.”
At the start of the pandemic, with many parents balancing remote school and remote work, work/life balance issues were front and center. Time and experience, along with a return to some normalcy at schools have improved the pull many remote workers initially felt. However, managing the distractions of home life while working from home can take some getting used to.
“I didn’t really have that many issues balancing home life. My job is pretty self-sufficient, so I can do some work, and walk away to switch laundry, or load the dishwasher, and then go back to work. I also don’t have any kids, it’s just me, so I don’t have to worry about keeping anyone else busy so I can do my work. I really feel for ones who have kids and have to worry about making lunches, do housework, and keep kids busy while also doing their work,” Clifford said.
McClain converted a bedroom into a workspace and said this was a key in achieving balance at home. When the door is closed, she can focus on work and her family knows that means she is focused on work.
“At first, it was a challenge to tune out work. I am a super over achiever inclined to work late. So, it took some time to figure that out,” McClain said.
While the benefits are many, there are challenges to remote work situations.
“The biggest negative about working from home is It has made me more lazy. Before I would take a shower, make the drive, get some breakfast all before logging on. I’d have time to get mentally get ready for work. Now I roll out of bed 5 minutes before I need to log on and I get to work. If we were going back to the office tomorrow, I would definitely struggle,” Clifford said.
“Training in person is a lot better in an office setting. I was lucky enough to be promoted and transition to a new team last year. But all my training was done through Zoom calls and screen sharing. Being face to face with my coworkers would have been so much easier.”
Despite the challenges, most continue to see remote work as a part of their work lives for the foreseeable future.
“With the different variants coming out, my company has paused getting us back in the office. and my managers have expressed to us that they will keep us home for as long as possible,” Clifford said.
McClain’s employer has developed a hybrid approach, with employees expected in the office a few days a week. McClain is excited about the opportunity to return to the office part-time.
“I am excited to go back to the office, because there are people that I have not met face-to-face that I would like to see. And, I think there is some social aspect of the office that will be fun, but I don’t need it,” McClain said.
“But my children are older, so I don’t know how I would feel if my children were younger. I may have wanted more of a social outlet that I don’t need as much now.”
McDaniel prefers working in-person, but hasn’t left remote work behind.
“Ultimately, I just couldn’t really see myself teaching remotely full time for the rest of my life. I took this entire year off from online teaching but beginning this summer, I will do adjunct instruction part time,” McDaniel said.
Do you have a work-related topic you’d like us to explore in our On the Job series? Send your story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackson County Executive recommends public health order requiring universal masking for K-12 schools
Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. announced January 13th that he will recommend a public health order requiring universal mask-wearing at K-12 Jackson County public schools. A majority support of the Jackson County Legislature will be required to enact the order, which would take effect on Tuesday, January 18 at the earliest, or upon adoption by the Legislature and signature of the County Executive.
White said he is making the recommendation in response to the significant surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due, in part, to the highly-contagious Omicron and Delta variants and stagnant vaccination rates in Eastern Jackson County.
“We know how valuable in-person learning is for students, but maintaining that practice is becoming increasingly difficult as schools struggle to have enough teachers in the classroom and more children are getting sick at an alarming rate,” White said. “Masking wearing has proven to be an effective way to mitigate the spread of the virus and will help keep students, teachers, staff and visitors safe in school buildings. Our vigilant masking efforts, combined with vaccinations for everyone ages 5 and older, will be key to reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools.”
The latest data from the Jackson County Health Department shows:
Demand remains high for COVID-19 testing due, and the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) recently reminded residents of an option to receive complimentary tests shipped to their homes. The announcement quickly resulted in an overwhelming response, and the department has announced it has suspended requests until at least January 12th.
After January 12th, residents may request test kits to be shipped to their home by visiting Picture Genetics | At-home COVID-19 Test. A limited quantity will be available each day through January. If the ordering site states the limit has been reached, residents are asked to check back the following day for availability.
Once a resident receives a test and completes self-collection by easy-to-follow instructions, the kit is returned to a laboratory free of charge via FedEx. Test results are provided via email. Once ordered, the kit typically arrives in 2 days (depending on current demand), and the kit is good for 6 months. Once the sample has been collected, it must be packaged in the prepaid FedEx shipping envelope (according to directions) and returned to a FedEx collection site within 24 hours.
Visit the DHSS website for a comprehensive list of testing sites, pharmacies that offer free testing, and the link to request a free test to be shipped to your home: Community Testing | COVID-19 Outbreak | Health & Senior Services (mo.gov).
Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. today is announcing phase one guidelines of the Jackson County Recovery Plan, which is planned to begin on May 11 in alignment with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/KCK and Johnson County, KS.
The Jackson County Health Department, under the leadership of Director Bridgette Shaffer, MPH, has prepared the phased-approach recovery plan that is focused on protecting the health and safety of residents, while beginning a safe and sensible path to economic recovery for all of Jackson County.
“Families, workers and businesses have made difficult sacrifices, but their cooperation has made it possible for us to develop a path to move forward,” Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. said.
“Far too many lives have been lost to this virus and we remain committed to protecting public health as we reopen slowly and safely. I appreciate the input and support of our communities during this unprecedented and deadly pandemic. The road ahead will have its challenges, but I am confident that if we stick together, we can overcome any obstacles that lie ahead.”
Under phase one, all businesses deemed essential during the county’s stay-at-home order will be allowed to remain open. In addition, most retail stores, personal service providers, restaurants and bars selling food will be allowed to reopen for business provided they follow the social-distancing guidelines and capacity limitations provided. Gatherings, of up to 10 people, will be allowed to resume, but social-distancing guidelines must be followed. In addition, certain businesses and activities including entertainment venues, gyms/fitness centers, and outdoor playgrounds shall remain closed.
The County strongly recommends that all residents continue social-distancing protocols, specifically, encouraging seniors and vulnerable populations to stay at home, working remotely if possible, and wearing a mask or face covering when in public.
“Every individual has a personal responsibility to stay safe and protect themselves, their neighbors, employees and customers. When we stop taking this virus seriously, we will be right back where we started or worse,” said Jackson County Health Department Director Bridgette Shaffer, MPH. “Social distancing has proven to be effective in our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and we urge people to follow our guidance, knowing that their actions will determine how we progress through this recovery process.”
A public survey issued by Jackson County on Friday, May 1 has so far, resulted in more than 9,000 responses and that feedback has been instrumental in the development of the County’s phase one plan. Additionally, here are some of the comments survey respondents shared when asked what steps they would like to see the County take to help them feel safe:
The survey will remain available until noon Friday, May 8. Individuals can go to www.jacksongov.org to take the survey. Additionally, the attached QR Code can be scanned on smart devices for easy mobile access. The County will share the final results of the survey on its website and social media platforms after it is concluded.
Jackson County’s Recovery Plan can be found online by visiting www.jacksongov.org and www.jacohd.org. Residents and businesses with questions should call (816) 404-9883 or email COVID19@tmcmed.org.