By Barbara Hazelden, Contributing Writer
REGION – While inching along in I-93 traffic every day or plodding along slushy Boston streets in horrible winter weather, many office workers no doubt daydreamed about working remotely from home full time. Then, during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, thousands of employees were unexpectedly thrust into this scenario as their workplaces were ordered to close their doors.
As 2022 progresses and the pandemic winds down, Massachusetts companies have reopened their doors, and it’s back to business as usual. However, many firms have switched to a remote or hybrid work model. This trend is making remote work an increasingly common part of the state’s employment landscape.
Remote work becomes a more feasible option
In February 2021, the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report called “The Future of Work After COVID-19.” This nationally recognized management consulting firm concluded that remote work would likely continue after the pandemic.
McKinsey researchers found that 20 to 25 percent of advanced economies’ workforces could realistically work remotely for three to five days each week. For comparison, this is four to five times more remote work than in a pre-pandemic economy. This development could result in companies (and workers) moving from large cities to smaller cities and suburbs.
Integrating remote work into the Massachusetts economy
In March 2021, Massachusetts state officials began discussions on how remote work could fit into the post-pandemic economy. Michael Kennealy, Massachusetts’ secretary of housing and economic development, acknowledged significant adjustments for employers and employees.
Kennealy voiced his concerns during a March 2021 webinar sponsored by the Massachusetts High Technology Council. “The biggest question of all is, how will we compete in this new world? The environment is different now,” he emphasized.
Massachusetts sees good remote work potential
In July 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s office issued a commissioned report on remote work’s future in the Bay State. The report estimated that roughly one-third of Massachusetts residents could easily work remotely. This percentage is higher than in many other states.
Governor Baker reiterated these findings in an address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. He predicted that a large percentage of office workers could successfully perform their jobs without being at their desks for a five-day work week. Plans were also underway for roughly half of Massachusetts’ 44,000 full-time state employees to work in a “hybrid” work structure.
More remote work would trigger several domino effects. Workers in hybrid job models would require flexible childcare alternatives. As more employees worked from home, office real estate demand could experience a 20 percent decline.
Putting the infrastructure in place
To enable more remote work opportunities, cities and towns would need infrastructure investments. Expanded internet broadband access would be especially important. Massachusetts State Sen. Eric Lesser, a Democrat representing the First Hampden and Hampshire District, said poor internet connectivity is a major problem in multiple Massachusetts communities, particularly in the commonwealth’s western half.
“You’ve got multiple communities that don’t have broadband hookups at all,” Lesser explained. “And then, you know, you have, especially lower-income communities, communities of color, especially in our gateway cities that … on paper have connectivity, but it’s very expensive, or is of not great quality. So those issues are really going to be at the top of the agenda,” he concluded.
Sen. Lesser also said that revitalization-minded cities and towns could benefit from establishing co-working spaces. Remote workers who prefer out-of-home workspaces often gravitate to these venues. Public libraries can accommodate co-working setups with minimal modifications.
Massachusetts residents who desire remote work have numerous resources available. According to job services company Virtual Vocations, numerous Massachusetts businesses regularly hire remote workers. Virtual Vocations also provides a growing list of co-working spaces along with other remote job-seekers’ resources.
Older workers are well suited for remote work
Not surprisingly, many Massachusetts residents over 50 are good candidates for remote work. First, older workers often have decades of business world experience. In addition, their job-related skills, strong work ethic, and interpersonal talents enable them to adapt to varied work scenarios.
Finally, the marketplace is increasingly recognizing that over-50 workers are often just as suited for remote work as younger candidates. Chris Farrell, author of Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life, explains.
“The popular image is that older workers aren’t suited for telework. But the data suggests they are good candidates since they have a well-developed work ethic. And there is no evidence that today’s 50-plus worker isn’t technologically adept. Case in point: Just about everyone is using Zoom now,” Farrell concludes.
Many older workers prefer working remotely
FlexJobs, a respected source for flexible and remote job listings, conducted a 2017 survey about remote work. The FlexJobs survey revealed that over half of the cohort’s 50-plus professionals viewed remote work as a more productive option.
Reasons included decreased commuting stress and less annoying office politics. A much quieter work environment, and few distractions and interruptions, were also high on the list. Respondents also enjoyed wearing more comfortable clothes, likely including sweatsuits and other casual attire.
In early 2022, Massachusetts residents have an increasing number of remote work opportunities. With well-equipped workspaces, and healthy amounts of discipline, this alternative workstyle can become a realistic option for many older workers.