We can quibble over the details. Did Gibson give teachers working from home enough time? Are classes set up in the most ideal way for safe teaching without distractions?
But there’s no arguing with Gibson’s motivation, which was about the fairness, equity and consistency of work-from-home policies, along with routine accountability.
A year ago, the pandemic changed everything and forced all organizations into strange territory. But it didn’t change this: Working from home is a perk, and one mostly available to highly educated, well-paid, white-collar workers.
In fact, before the pandemic, remote working and flexible schedules were among the most sought-after perks in the private sector. And there’s good reason. Who doesn’t want to skip the commute, work in pajamas, squeeze in more exercise time, avoid office politics, catch up with laundry and spend more time with family while earning the same paycheck as someone working in the office?
Long before the pandemic, corporations were working to attract and retain talent with offers of remote working and flexible schedules. Technology had made all this possible. But those perks have caused resentment among employees who couldn’t work from home or who showed their commitment by suiting up and showing up.
Based on the responses of 753 full- and part-time employees across multiple positions and industries, 78 percent said their “non-virtual-working colleagues resent them for working virtually,” according to a January 2020 global survey by Korn Ferry, an organizational consulting firm.
“I was shocked by that,” says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for global RPO at Korn Ferry in an article for Human Resource Executive. “There’s still the perception that, because you work remotely, you can do whatever you want. Those who don’t work remotely have that bias.”
Fair or not, that resentment is real, palpable and exactly what Gibson was attempting to tamp down on Feb. 22 when he demanded about 50 teachers leading online classes return to campus.
In a video message, Gibson talked about how some teachers considered it unfair they were masking up and showing up and teaching from campus, while others still were working from home.
All the teachers were supposed to be working from the school, and it’s unclear who decided some could work from home.
“People who are coming to work every day find that inconsistent,” Gibson said. “I find that to be inconsistent.”
Another point of contention was that teachers working from home still were getting their pre-pandemic paychecks. And that’s no small complaint.
Remote workers typically save about $4,000 a year by working from home, according to a study from FlexJobs, an online service that specializes in flexible jobs. That comes from saving on commuting costs as well as paring spending on coffee, lunches and a professional wardrobe.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a work-from-home trend, and it’s here to stay. To an extent, the private sector can deal with that headache through human resource departments.
But it’s likely even the private sector knows there’s a limit to and legal danger in creating new classes of workers — some allowed to work from home and some required to appear in person. Doing so is fraught with inequity, some of which might be actionable in court.
Public entities such as school districts especially can’t afford to make those managerial mistakes. They must be impeccably consistent or face all sorts of legal trouble.
Accountability, a manager’s prime responsibility, also suffers when employees are out of sight, as Gibson noted.
“One thing I’ve learned as an administrator is that which gets monitored gets done,” Gibson said in the video.
In the early days of the pandemic, remote working was the shiny new future. Except it wasn’t for schools. Students fell behind even as administrators raced to give them access to resources they needed. Students felt isolated, and working parents became frustrated.
With classroom safety protocols in place, and as the state finally prioritizes teacher vaccinations, there are very few reasons educators can’t return to the classroom.
“We want to be fair, we want to be consistent and we need to monitor what students are and are not learning,” Gibson said.
Gibson owed that to teachers, parents, students and taxpayers. He was right, despite the pushback.
• Laura Elder