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Let's Make Telework The New Normal – Honolulu Civil Beat

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IDEAS: Essays
It could pave the way for healthier workers and communities and make planet Earth a better place.
By Michelle Kwock
December 12, 2021 · 7 min read
Michelle Kwock
Michelle Kwock has lived in downtown Honolulu for most of her life. She is a public health and urban enthusiast who attended Boston University for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, bicycling and planning for her next vacation abroad.
With Covid-19 cases on a downward trend in Hawaii, society is easing toward a return to what it was pre-pandemic. Gov. David Ige announced last month the opening of international travel, employment is rebounding from disrupted sectors, and we once again see increases in commute times and costs along with carbon emissions as more workers hit the roads.

But Covid has contributed to high stress levels for both people and the planet. The discovery of the omicron variant in Hawaii earlier this month will only add to that stress.
What if telework is accepted as the new normal? After all, it was widely implemented among many companies during the pandemic.
Employers realize they have nothing to lose and everything to gain when their employees are equally productive or more so outside the office.
To address stress at workplaces and to better prepare for the next health crisis, employers could help by supporting permanent telework.
While the intention is to prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in enclosed environments lacking distancing, those fortunate to telework since March 2020 also experienced benefits that boosted their health and well-being.
Simultaneously, as noted in an op-ed titled “When It Comes To Work, Let’s Embrace The New Normal,” employers no longer need to maintain office space and supplies when employees are not physically present. Telework is a win-win solution for everyone directly or indirectly impacted.
Currently, health departments worldwide remain deeply involved in responding to the pandemic via outreach, testing and vaccinations.
The Hawaii Department of Health could not be successful in its mission to protect and improve the health and environment for all people in Hawaii without the support of the community. Publishing the Healthy Hawaii Strategic Plan 2030, a roadmap to better health by addressing quality of life, is an example of collaboration from a diverse group of stakeholders.
There is no doubt stress is a part of life, just like eating and sleeping. When stress becomes overwhelming and unmanageable, a person will develop serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and even mental disorders.
Not only does teleworking reduce stress associated with the commute and preparation before the workday, employees also avoid interacting with difficult coworkers, annoying managers, and other toxic personalities as well as working in an intolerable environment.
An acquaintance shared with me his experience of sitting in an uncomfortable chair with constant background noise (e.g., humming air conditioning and chattering colleagues), freezing temperatures, and the smell of burnt food wafting in a windowless, open-plan office after a company reorganization. Plus, the giant TV screen in the same office was always on, adding to the visual and sound distractions.
Unfortunately, my acquaintance does not have an understanding supervisor and plans to search for flexible opportunities. It is unsurprising that a majority of American workers are unhappy in their jobs and negative emotions are suppressed. But telework has been shown to boost employee retention by lowering stress from exposure to toxic people and poorly designed office spaces at rotten workplaces.
Imagine the healthy choices people could make when their energy is not spent on their daily commute.
One of my teleworking colleagues cooks with fresh ingredients during lunch breaks when, previously, his wallet and waistline suffered from regularly consuming takeout from fast-food eateries. I noticed a positive difference in his appearance during a recent Zoom meeting.
Another colleague mentioned using the time saved from commuting to catch up on sleep, which is a part of good health maintenance. She is frequently mentally and physically exhausted from devoting all her waking hours to tackling work tasks and providing care to children and elderly parents and relatives living in the same household. As the sole breadwinner and caregiver, she cannot afford to get sick.
From these cases, telework shows one way to improve quality of life for employees, though America continues to lag behind others when it comes to providing worker benefits. And both of my colleagues are happily saving on gas and parking expenses.
Besides mitigating work-related stress, telework may remove commuting problems resulting from too many vehicles on the roads. Perhaps law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians would handle fewer incidents of car crashes and injuries when drivers calmly pay attention to their surroundings instead of engaging in road rage.
Society then benefits from the manpower and bandwidth to focus on unaddressed issues, whether it is keeping bicycle and catalytic converter thieves off of our streets or stopping suicides from occurring. As traffic congestion improves, the roads become available for those unable to telework, including bus drivers, construction laborers, emergency room staff, mail carriers and security guards, to name just a few professions dependent on vehicles for their livelihood.
Telework is a win-win solution for everyone directly or indirectly impacted.
Meanwhile, with telework, others arrive at their medical appointments on time and complete errands more efficiently. The stress involved with getting to final destinations dissipates when people stick to traveling for necessity and leisure. Our neighbors who reside near a freeway will be eternally grateful when the continuous noise and air pollution from passing personal vehicles decreases and allows them to enjoy moments of peace and rest.
From a broader perspective, we might even get a cleaner planet due to smaller carbon footprints generated by those working remotely. By allowing telework options and ensuring it is the norm, the best employers are proactively advocating for healthier employees, communities and the planet.
Technology apps such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams enable virtual meetings and most workers have computer and internet access outside the office. Because these tools make telework possible, employers should permit their employees to keep teleworking regardless of the pandemic’s trend.
Each person has different circumstances, and there is no one-size-fits-all policy in any workplace environment. The best policy is to let self-aware employees decide for themselves whether they prefer to work full time remotely or in person or create a hybrid schedule combining both.
There is no reason why someone who neither faces the public nor requires special equipment for their work be mandated to show up at the office. A humane and respectful employer would wholeheartedly support each employee’s decision regarding their work arrangements.
Good health is certainly irreplaceable, and if employees are finally eating nutritious foods, getting adequate rest, and lowering stress levels while adjusting to working productively outside the office, it does not make sense to revert to pre-pandemic routines.
The new normal is one in which telework continues to expand without terms and conditions attached. A survey of federal employees earlier this year shows that the vast majority want the option of teleworking even after the pandemic subsides.
Although telework was initially implemented due to safety and health concerns, its impacts are far greater in terms of restoring sanity and improving quality of life for everyone. When Hawaii residents are on track for better health, the DOH is more likely to achieve various targets featured in the Healthy Hawaii Strategic Plan 2030.
Telework is a simple solution that makes a positive difference for both people and the planet. Now is the season of giving, and employers could show they care by gifting permanent telework.
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Michelle Kwock
Michelle Kwock has lived in downtown Honolulu for most of her life. She is a public health and urban enthusiast who attended Boston University for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, bicycling and planning for her next vacation abroad.
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The way my friends telework, is “working” while chilling at the beach, drinking at the bar, partying at each other’s house, while doing a staycation in Waikiki, and even while working a second job. As long as they’re logged into laptops it’s all good. In fact I was guilty of doing it too for a few months then asked to return to the office because I was drinking & eating way too much because it was readily available. Not like when I’m in the office. Having a choice is good, I do see it’s benefits, but I think with no supervision quality of work will drop.
JustMyOpinion · 4 hours ago
Modern times have taken us in a direction in which we have lost so much of our community life, with long commutes and workers who do not know members of other workers’ family and a general dissolution of connection. Although working from home solves the commute problem, it exacerbates the separation of people. Digital contact is artificial. Hugs and handshake are therapeutic. The trend is costing us dearly, and may  be the single most contributory factor to our societal problems. Another unintended consequence of working from home is that it is causing a tidal shift of people to the more attractive locations (like Kaua’i.) This will play out regardless of what we do as individuals, but it may not work out so well for us as a species.
daviddinner · 4 hours ago
Let’s see, what is Hawaii lacking? Housing, agriculture, roads, medical care, etc. All things that can be done from home. I don’t think so. Writing is about the only telework that I can come up with where it is equal to an office.
Vandy63 · 7 hours ago
IDEAS is the place you’ll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state’s sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email [email protected] to submit an idea.
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