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#WFH: Is Remote Work Here to Stay?

For much of Higher Education, learning stopped in mid-March. Students went home for spring break with the idea they would return and then were told not to come back to campus. The same scenario played out in K-12. Teachers thought they were being sent home for a few weeks and then were told not to return. At first learning was put on hold, with the idea of reviewing what had already been covered. Then it became clear that emergency remote teaching was the mode we would be in for the rest of the school year. The term emergency remote teaching has emerged in education circles to describe what has been advocated for as a solution to the public health crisis of COVID-19 versus the development of quality online learning environments. Not all the options or solutions are equally effective and not all the institutions have been able to implement remote emergency teaching by delivering the same type and quality of learning.

Even with connectivity tools like Zoom, Chromebooks and ClassDojo in place, few teachers were ready to finish out the school year online. School districts scrambled to assure equal access, internet connections, hardware and software, and of course accessibility. Parents were now full-time teachers and remote learning was homeschooling. By April 10, 2020, 124,000 schools had been closed and about 55 million students affected. As schools rushed to shift education online using emergency remote teaching, concerns developed about absenteeism, special needs students, technology, grading, and school meals. For a whole host of reasons, many districts decided to do nothing and put the rest of the term on hold, and then try to pick up again the next school year. That led to debating whether to give the grades students earned by March as the final grade. Even the Ivy League cancelled classes and closed dorms. The U.S. Department of Education put a hold on loan repayment and standardized testing was either eliminated, put online or put on hold.

In February, unemployment hovered around 5.8 million; by April, 23 million Americans were without work. The economy contracted 4.8 percent from January to March 2020 and the unemployment rate increased to 14.7% by April. Economists indicated that most of the economic impact came from mandatory shutdowns. States issued stay at home orders somewhere between March 15 and March 21, starting with California, followed by most of the Northeast and some of the Northwest by March 28, and much of the middle of the country straggled in by early April. Stay at home orders encouraged residents to stay home, unless they were essential workers (such as medical care, drug store and grocery personnel, etc.) The state of New York directed that non-essential employees of any kind must work from home. By April 2, about 90% of the U.S. population was under restraint.

Evangelists for the remote workplace and distance learning are hoping that this emergency will propel those who have been resistant into the 21st century to join the bandwagon and open pathways where there had previously been resistance. Others are genuinely concerned that the thrust into remote workplaces will have a backlash that will make this move even more difficult in the long run. The United States had some previous experience with mass emergency education and displaced workers with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but that was nothing like the spring of 2020. By the summer of 2020, over a million people had been infected with the virus and where and how people would work or go to school in the future was still unanswered.

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