Employees Navigate Adjustments As In-Person Work Resumes

By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Intern

SOUTH JERSEY — When Governor Murphy lifted mask mandates on March 7th, the decision was considered a monumental moment for the state. After all, most people can agree that quality of life is significantly better without face coverings and social distancing guidelines. Children are now able to attend school without masks, large events can take place, and people can interact with friends and family outside their immediate bubble again.

For some though, the benefits come at a cost. With New Jersey sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia, many residents were completely remote the last couple years during the pandemic. Naturally, this came with the disadvantage of being unable to communicate in-person, sit in a company office, and even get proper access to certain tools or resources that were necessary to work. These kinds of working conditions also often created stagnancy and deprived people of daily social interaction and a mere change of scenery.

With that said, many found this new kind of lifestyle beneficial in many ways. From a financial perspective, it saved money for employees by eliminating commuting costs.

Ian Rosenast, a recent graduate, saved nearly $800 a month by working remotely his first year out of college. If he had to commute to work in New York City every day, he would have had to pay $600 for a monthly train pass, $60 a month for a parking permit, and around $130 for a MetroCard. That doesn’t include any money he would’ve probably spent on food, drinks, or other necessities as he was working in the city. According to his calculations, he would’ve probably spent an extra $100 every week on food, coffee, or drinks if he was working in the city every day.

As a recent college graduate with loans, this saved him an enormous amount of money and allowed him to get a head start on his finances. By living at home for a year, he was also able to save up money for grad school, which he plans to attend next fall.

“Now, two years out of college, I’m in a completely different financial position than I expected to be in,” Rosenast says. “I could comfortably afford vacations, a gym membership, and whatever else I wanted to spend my money on within reason.”

The virtual employment landscape allowed people to work in their preferred conditions in their location of choice.

Simi Srinivansen, a 25-year-old New Jersey resident, worked as a Product Manager in the advertising technology industry during the pandemic. In addition to saving money by cutting out her commute to and from work every day, she also had the opportunity to experiment with living in different locations. Srinivansen lived in Vermont for a month in the winter and Seattle for two months this past fall.

While she worked remotely in Vermont, she worked regular east coast hours and was able to take off half days sparingly to get in a few hours of skiing throughout the week.

“It was really cool to be able to live right next to the mountains so I could take advantage of the ski season without having to plan an entire vacation,” Simi says.

When she lived in Seattle, she worked east coast hours on the west coast. Even though this took some adjustment to get used to, it ended up giving her benefits that she didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy in her work life when following a normal 9-5 schedule.

“I worked till about 2:00 p.m., and then I was able to take full advantage of the rest of my day to either explore the city, hike, or just relax,” Srinivansen says.

If she had been working on the east coast, she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the daylight after work. She says this provided a mood booster that she normally wouldn’t have gotten during the fall season on the east coast.

“My favorite part about moving around during the pandemic was being able to explore different cities without having to commit. Prior to that I had always paired where I lived with where I worked, so disassociating those two things made me widen my scope of where I could live,” Srinivansen says.

Srinivansen had a particularly memorable experience during the pandemic. For some though, the most enjoyable part about working from home was the ability to enjoy simple pleasures. Without being in the office every day, many employees were able to get their work done while learning to focus on other areas of life too. Even though some people describe a missing separation between their work and personal life because of the lack of a physical place to work, others found that working from home saved time in their day that they were able to devote to friends, family, or personal hobbies.

During the pandemic, Terri O’Prey, a managing editor at Princeton University Press was able to enjoy simple pleasures. Her favorite part about working remotely was the freedom from the morning rush out of the house on weekdays. She also had the opportunity to spend more time with her dog and switch up her workspace by working in a rental property that she recently purchased and was fixing up.

Even though O’Prey’s commute may not have been too extensive, the process of getting ready every morning can be stressful and time-consuming for all employees.  For New Jersey residents who commute to Philadelphia or New York City daily, this commute could’ve taken upwards of three to four hours per day. Not only does the commute take up a significant portion of employees’ days, but it also leaves people exhausted when they finally return home. As a result, many commuters would sacrifice working out or a social life.

Now that employees must return physically to work, some are not surprisingly reluctant to do so. After all, while COVID proved many things, it mostly proved that humans can adapt to whatever conditions they are given. Even O’Prey, who works in the publishing business, was surprised at how quickly the University was able to transition away from paper in their production workflow.

During the pandemic, employees demonstrated that as long as they had a laptop and a stable WiFi connection, they were able to continue business as usual. Now that companies are back in person, there seems to be some dysfunction in terms of figuring out how to be efficient when half the workforce is coming in and half isn’t. Srininvansen notes that it doesn’t feel beneficial to come into the office and just sit at a desk and take video calls.

“Personally, I need to know that we are being intentional with why we are coming into the office on any given day,” Srinivansen says.

Prior to the pandemic, many employees’ days were consumed by work. Whether they were getting ready for work, commuting to their job, or sitting in an office surrounded by their boss and coworkers for nine hours every day, work made up their life. With remote work, Srinivansen says that expectations of getting work done remained the same, but companies were more lenient with working hours and company culture strengthened in terms of supporting employees and sharing empathy for one another.

Now, employees want to ensure that their time is being used wisely and they’re being valued as human beings in their workplace. Companies need to prove to employees that they are being considerate of their time and don’t require extraneous working conditions that aren’t wholly necessary.

While many are eager to return to work in person, companies would benefit from factoring in the number of employees that adjusted to different work styles during the pandemic and offer some kind of option that appeases their new lifestyle. After all, now that remote work exists in the quantity that it does, employees might be tempted to leave if their current job doesn’t address their new needs.

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