Bills are piling up, the economy is tanking and elections are around the corner. There is a sudden urgency to get people back to work.

But if we rush to return to the pre-COVID-19 daily grind, we may see a resurgence of the virus and squander a rare opportunity to build a better and more resilient tomorrow.

Before the pandemic hit, many Oahu residents’ weekday routines consisted of waking up before dawn to beat morning rush hour to drop off children at school and get to the office by 8 a.m.

We’d sit at our desks until noon responding to emails, attending meetings, seeing patients, teaching etc. depending on our profession. A quick bite to eat and back to the same routine until 5 p.m. We’d sit in traffic and get home drained and then rush to put dinner on the table. After homework and chores, there aren’t many hours left for quality time with the ohana.

Life was mindbogglingly busy and rushed but that was our normal until COVID-19 suddenly pressed pause.

During the past few weeks when companies were forced to shut down or permit employees to work from home, a new normal was born. Although some of us struggled to balance childcare with working from home, we realized that we can accomplish many work assignments without having to waste precious time commuting in soul-sucking traffic.

Hawaii employers should reconsider opposition to telecommuting for work in a post-COVID-19 world. Flickr: Mike McCune

When the virus is under control, our children will go back to school but do we all want to rush back to the workplace? Some of us will; others will definitely not.

Very few businesses offer telecommuting options in Hawaii. Most local employers are reluctant to innovate when it comes to telework and flex time.

If they offer it to one employee, they have to offer it to others, right? Not necessarily.

For starters, not everyone wants to, or can, work from home. Some professions such as teaching, medicine or retail require employees to be physically present at the workplace.

Fewer Sick Days

However, in the future, we may see that even these professions will rely more and more on technology for distance education, telemedicine and online shopping. Many office jobs don’t require employees to be physically present at the workplace. In these cases, flex time and telework can be a win-win for both the employer and employee.

Businesses can cut down on office space and supplies by allowing employees to share workspace when they telecommute.

Employees will be happier because they will spend less time on the road and will be more productive due to less distractions.

Employees will also take fewer sick days because working from home with a slight fever or touch of food poisoning is doable but going to the office might mean sharing germs with coworkers.

At the end of the day, businesses will benefit from having happier, loyal employees. They will also attract savvy prospective talent who want positions that will be safe during a pandemic.

As an added bonus, companies that offer telework might get good press as they will be helping to reduce carbon emissions. Several studies have shown that air pollution is remarkably lower in many cities enforcing stay-at-home orders.

Work-life balance is critical for quality of life. For those who do the lion’s share of household chores, being able to work from home is a Godsend.

We can take a quick break whenever we want to throw in a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or attend a yoga class between virtual meetings. We can work from anywhere there’s an Internet connection.

This lifestyle is already in practice in progressive workplaces in Silicon Valley and in Sweden. As of mid-April, Sweden had not encouraged its citizens to stay home or to practice physical distancing even though it has many cases of COVID-19.

But Sweden has since reported a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths. Perhaps that will inspire even more work-from-home habits.

Businesses will benefit from having happier, loyal employees.

The reasoning behind this policy is that Swedes already practice physical distancing as part of their culture. That is, they don’t hug and kiss to greet each other like we do in Hawaii.

Also, 40% of their residents already work from home. We don’t know if the Swedes will be forced to take more drastic action to curb the virus, but for now, they have not had to press pause on life.

It’s true that nothing beats the human touch. Looking someone in the eye during a handshake, being enveloped in a long, warm hug or placing a reassuring hand on a shoulder will always mean a lot.

But maybe it’s time we find a way to provide the human touch while refusing the dizzying lifestyle that wasted time, money and energy. Flex time, staggered work hours and telework can lead to a higher quality of life while improving productivity and helping to ease traffic and carbon emissions.

Above all, companies that implement telework will not have to press pause when the next pandemic hits.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author