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Wisconsin experts say remote work likely to outlast pandemic

By MEGAN HART
Wisconsin Public Radio

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Public Service will close its downtown Green Bay office in November, but the utility company has no plans to cut services or lay off any of the 450 employees who typically work there, according to a company representative.

Some will move to other sites, and others will become full-time remote workers, said the communications specialist Matt Cullen. During the coronavirus pandemic, the company has seen how successfully its employees can work from home, he said.

“Adding the fact that the buildings on our Green Bay campus in the downtown area were in need of significant renovations for future use and that those buildings had not been fully occupied for some time, we felt that this was the best time to make this transition,” Cullen told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Experts expect other companies to embrace remote work after the pandemic, which has forced many of America’s office workers to work from home for the first time.

Loren Kuzuhara, a professor in the Department of Management and Human Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says so much has changed in recent months that it’s unlikely offices will just go back to normal after the pandemic.

“This is definitely a big change, a paradigm shift as they say,” he said.

Remote work may come more naturally to employees who grew up around the internet, he noted. With baby boomers retiring and Gen Zers taking their first jobs, this is becoming a larger portion of the American workforce.

For companies, experts agree there are both benefits and drawbacks to having employees work remotely.

Like Kuzuhara, Jirs Meuris is a professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Management and Human Resources. Cutting expenses is the biggest perk of operating remotely, he said. It also offers employees more flexibility, and some workers might even have fewer distractions at home, he said.

Of course, not all jobs can be done remotely and not all companies will have success with a work-from-home model, he said. As an example, Meuris cited Yahoo, which famously stopped allowing employees to telecommute in 2013.

One of the drawbacks to working remotely is that it can be difficult for employees to develop the social relationships they might in the office, Meuris said. Roles that require a lot of collaboration might also be difficult to do successfully from home, he noted.

Ultimately, Meuris expects some companies to embrace a hybrid system that allows employees to split their time between working at home and the office. It’ll be driven, in part, by demand from workers who are now comfortable logging on remotely, he said.

That’s not to say all employees have enjoyed working remotely amid the pandemic. In the long term, workers are likely to seek out companies with physical offices or flexible remote-work policies to meet their individual needs, Meuris said.

But there are things employees can do to make it easier to work from home in the meantime.

Christine Whelan, a clinical professor in the Department of Consumer Science at UW-Madison, suggests remote workers get dressed every morning as though they’re heading into the office. If possible, they should also set aside part of their homes to serve as their workspace, she said.

“Pretend like you’re actually leaving for work,” she said. “I have taken to making myself a cup of coffee and even packing some snacks and going to the office as if I am leaving the house.”

Not only can having a dedicated office space boost productivity, it can also help employees establish barriers and disconnect from work at the end of the day, which is one of the biggest challenges remote workers face, she said.

It’s also important to get outside, Whelan said.

“Getting out and physically moving is going to make you feel happier and healthier throughout the day,” she said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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