Working from home continues to be a reality for many Delawareans, including Troy Mix, associate director for the Institute for Public Administration at the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy & Administration and a cofounder of the Recover Delaware initiative.
“I’m not welcome back on campus for a long time,” he said. “It’s become normalized — asking where someone is working from has become as normal as talking about the weather.”
This got Mix and his colleagues thinking: If Delaware were a real success story in regard to remote work, what would that mean for the state in a post-COVID-19 world?
When Mix talks about post-COVID-19, he doesn’t mean the present, Phase 2 Delaware, where the lockdown has been lifted but precautions are still in place. He means the long-term, after there’s a vaccine. What will life be like years down the line, and what changes that went into effect in 2020 will become permanent parts of work culture and the economy?
These are not the questions the front line response workers who will get us through the pandemic are pondering — and that was part of the concept of Recover Delaware.
“A lot of my early response [to the pandemic] was guilt driven,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the firing line whose job is response. My colleagues and I do not have a response role. We think our best role is to be thinking about these other things that are on the backburner right now — but don’t forget about them, because there are going to be some changes that we want to figure out for the future.”
Figuring out what the normal will be going to go forward, he said, is vital to economic and social recovery.
“What dawned on us, it wasn’t a revelation, was that everything has changed, essentially, and if our work is not addressing those things in Delaware, we’re doing something wrong,” Mix said.
Among the questions they’re exploring are things like how Main Street businesses will be put back in business, and what’s going to happen to small businesses in the state now that 20% have been closed.
“We’re trying to have this conversation now so when we get there we won’t have a different crisis that is not a public health crisis, but a ‘we stopped the economy’ crisis. Turning it back on is not just a light-switch type thing,” he said.
For now, the main focus is on work-from-home, and how companies adapting to it might shape Delaware’s economy — and, maybe, make Delaware a draw for people and businesses looking for locations that are not big cities, but offer a strong work-from-home ecosystem.
Whether Delaware will be that place remains to be seen. Recover Delaware is currently looking for people who work from home in Delaware to share their experiences to help them put together a picture that is based on experiences.
Some of the factors that would make Delaware a work-from-home draw include:
- Quality of life
- Basic infrastructure and broadband. “Delaware gets high ranked in national broadband speed tests,” Mix said, “but it’s not evenly distributed as far as access.”
- Rethinking the role of physical space. “If you’re working at home, it doesn’t automatically mean you don’t need a coworking space or other third place,” Mix said.
- A heightened need for digital skills, requiring more programs and initiatives to make WFH more highly accessible.
- Revolutionizing coffee shops for remote workers — it’s not just office jobs that will change, but other businesses that rely on office workers.
If you’re interested in participating in Recover Delaware’s WFH research, you can contact Mix via the Recover Delaware website.
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