The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced many changes in the workplace. Perhaps the biggest change is the number of employees working remotely. Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm, estimates 164.6 million people were working remotely in February 2020, just as the pandemic began to rage. Today, Global Workplace Analytics’ statistics indicate more than 4.7 million people work remotely at least half the time in the United States.
The COVID-19 pandemic has issued in a series of remote work trends and more remote work options. Employers and employees have had to adapt. Many feared that productivity would plunge when employees first started working from home. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, titled “How Productive Have Remote Workers Been During Covid?”, that wasn’t the case. In fact, researchers found that productivity has remained stable, or in many cases, risen as people gained more control over their workday. A study by the University of Southampton examined the impact and outcomes of pandemic-driven remote work at the individual and organizational levels over an 18-month period. The survey asked more than 1,000 people about their productivity while working from home. Labor productivity was gauged using output per hour worked. The results suggest that nearly 90% thought that their productivity had either stayed the same or improved while working from home. According to the researchers, the results match previous studies about productivity gains from remote work. Some employers and employees have mixed opinions though about the value of working from home.
The Two-Job Trend
Some employees enjoy working from home. Some are glad to return to the office. Others have used working remotely as an opportunity to snag second jobs, often on the sly. Workers balancing two remote jobs offer a multitude of reasons for their choice. They were bored, worried about layoffs, tired of the lack of opportunity at their current job, or feeling like they were taken advantage of by their employers. Others saw an opportunity to make some extra money when a second job offer came along.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there is a small, but growing, group of white-collar workers who are working two full-time remote jobs. These employees go back and forth between two laptops and juggle meetings. Many say they don’t work more than forty hours a week for both jobs combined.
“It’s two jobs for one,” says a software engineer who works simultaneously for a media company and an events company. He estimates he was logging three to ten hours of actual work a week when he held down one job. “The rest of it is just attending meetings and pretending to look busy.” The money is incredible, he says, but it comes with increased stress and worry. “I’ll wake up in the morning and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is the day I’m gonna get found out.’ ”
Many workers balancing two remote jobs say it gives them options and a sense of control. One woman, who was working for an insurance company and a telecommunications company, gave her two weeks’ notice when one of her employers sent an email about returning to work at the office. Soon after quitting, she landed another second job.
“Am I trying to be, like, a five-star employee?” she says. “Not really. I’m just trying to do the job I need to not get fired.”
Holding two jobs isn’t illegal, says Richard Greenberg, an employment attorney with Jackson Lewis PC in New York. “It’s more of a contract issue. You’re jeopardizing your employment. There’s very few things that rise to criminal violations,” he says. Claire Deason, a Minneapolis employment attorney, says workers can be sued by employers if they violate a noncompete agreement, disclose confidential information, or misrepresent themselves.
In the current labor market, workers often have the upper hand. Chris Hansen, a technology manager working for a startup, noticed one of his coders acting strangely. The contractor had agreed to leave his role with a financial firm to work for Hansen for a few months. Then the contractor started not showing up to meetings and missing deadlines. Hansen discovered the man was still working his original job.
“I could have cut him loose, I suppose, but that would have been cutting off my own arm,” Hansen says. “It was better to have somebody than nobody.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many companies are continuing the work from home trend. Others are delivering ultimatums: return to the office or lose your job. Many predict remote work is here to stay though in some industries. Upwork estimates that 22% of the workforce (36.2 million Americans) will be working remotely by 2025. With those changes, employers will likely face new tests. What to do when they discover an employee is working a second remote job might be one of those challenges.