Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: March 23, 2020

Experts say coronavirus to permanently increase CT’s telecommuting workforce

Many employees are working at home right now as the coronavirus shuts down company offices.

While employers scramble to implement continuity plans in response to the coronavirus outbreak, some experts say the global pandemic could encourage a significant increase in permanent work-from-home policies.

Companies of all sizes are being forced to rethink the average workday as state and national leaders have issued sprawling bans on small and large gatherings and strongly urge remote working to curtail the spread of the disease.

Business and transportation leaders and other experts in Greater Hartford say many area employers have been rushing to implement new telecommuting policies, in addition to renting and purchasing laptops and other technologies for employees to minimize the impact on workflows.

“Coronavirus is just one reason we see more companies moving toward a plan to formalize these teleworking programs,” said Russell McDermott, project manager at CTrides, a program of the state Department of Transportation that helps commuters and employers with information and resources for travel options, including telecommuting.

“There are real consequences for employers not having these policies,” he added.

The popularity of telecommuting has been steadily growing in recent years as roughly 16% of Americans, or more than 26 million people, now work remotely, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, between 2005 and 2015, the number of Americans who telecommuted rose by 115%, BLS said.

In Connecticut, that number has been much smaller, with only 4.8% of workers in the state working from home as of 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

McDermott, whose group works with 275 companies on commuting options (from car- and vanpooling, to public transit), said he expects more employers in Connecticut to warm up to telecommuting as they see workers being productive at home amid the current health crisis.

“We try to stay consistent in telling companies the virus may be the reason you want to start teleworking, but this should be something you have in place that you continue after the coronavirus,” he said.

Jonathan Stone, chief technology officer of Glastonbury-based IT consulting firm Kelser Corp., is working with an increasing number of clients interested in adopting remote-work functions. That includes connecting workers to new laptops, desktops, cloud-based platforms, video conferencing applications and virtual private networks (or VPNs), among other systems that enable telecommuting.

Larger area employers, he said, are relying on in-house IT departments that handle installation or set up of a self-service model for their workers.

Although telecommuting has its benefits for employers, including consolidating work spaces, shrinking real estate needs and preparing for a health- or weather-related crisis, Stone said the arrangement could create potential cybersecurity issues if the strategy is hastily implemented. Other concerns center on reliable home internet connections and whether employees are actually working at home, but there are technologies that help employers track worker activity.

“Companies are mapping out a whole process of ‘how do you do your work today, how do you do it in the future, and what tools do you need as information moves around?,’ ” Stone said. “I think the frequency of severe weather over the past five-plus years has actually helped wake people up a little bit. That combined with technology being available makes remote work within reach even for a small business.”

Testing the waters

Many employers are dusting off their crisis-planning strategies they deployed in the last decade or so during other disease outbreaks (including H1N1, SARS, swine flu) and even Superstorm Sandy, among other weather-related interruptions.

Mark Soycher, human resource counsel for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), the state’s largest business lobby, said he sees a major overlap in strategies that companies can commit to, including telework.

“I think the exercise that companies have gone through in the past to anticipate and plan for these types of interruptions should serve them well,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s turnover or short memory, but I don’t think companies always make that connection, and smaller companies may never have put a formal plan in place.”

Soycher, who advises small and midsize companies, said he expects traditional managers, who were previously cautious about employee productivity at home, will realize telecommuting can be efficient.

“Managers need to have a better sense of confidence that employees are dedicated workers,” he said. “Remote work is something that companies may take advantage of even after this passes.”

Attorneys at law firm Pullman & Comley say they are fielding a wave of calls from private- and public-sector leaders on how to implement new policies for both salaried and hourly employees amid the coronavirus outbreak.

On the question of remote work, Pullman & Comley attorneys Mark Sommaruga and Jonathan Orleans say that employers, in most cases, do not have to allow telecommuting, but they can require it.

“When employers see work getting done during the outbreak they could warm up to the idea,” Sommaruga said. “But tracking when they work is tough.”

Orleans agreed that the coronavirus outbreak is forcing certain employers that haven’t allowed telecommuting to reconsider the policy, adding that it could be a “catalyst for change over the long run.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF