By State Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem)
I’m writing this from my backyard at 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday during a global pandemic. In a pause in writing, I can see that two cardinals have landed on a nearby barn. Writing is a large part of the business I run outside of my service as a State Senator. It is a job I can perform at any time and any place with an internet connection. My good fortune right now is to have an internet connection extending into this bucolic scenery, and the freedom to work atypical hours.
Last week I wrote about opportunities amid the pandemic crisis for the Indiana General Assembly to modernize and harness technology to make the process more transparent, accessible and accountable. Here, I would like us to consider some opportunities available for business as we move out of this economic lockdown.
Recently, many Hoosier employers and employees have instituted work-from-home policies. While many businesses cannot do this, much of our economy can function this way. I want to encourage businesses, where able, to consider partially maintaining these practices even as we are emerging from lockdown. I also encourage our businesses to consider a further adaptation from just remote working to fully distributed systems. Remote working generally entails a central brick and mortar office building, with some employees that work from home part of the time. Distributed working systems, in contrast, have no central office. Everyone works remotely leveraging technology to communicate, collaborate, and execute business. I operate my own business on a distributed model.
There are many benefits to remote work and distributed systems for our state. First, businesses implementing these methods are more adaptable. We may very well see more disruption from the Coronavirus or situations like it. A business with a more distributed workforce will not be interrupted by regional or even larger scale shelter in place orders. Work and economic gain can continue. Further, there are fewer fixed overhead costs. Distributed system businesses do not have to pay rent on a building unused during a pandemic.
Next, flexible work options are better for the employees. Happy employees make successful companies. Businesses with distributed systems measure employee output rather than employee time logged. Which is more valuable to an employer: eight hours clocked in at the office, or a completed project? We all know the value of an employee fully dedicated to a project versus someone who simply clocks in and out. This pandemic has reminded us of life’s uncertainty. If an employee has the flexibility to intersperse job responsibilities with personal tasks, then the employer will be happy the project is done, and the employee will be happy with a sensible work-life balance.
Finally, businesses with remote work and distributed system capabilities will have access to a broader talent pool. An employee can be based anywhere with an internet connection. While this may mean anywhere in the world, I hope it would also mean anywhere in Indiana. I live in and represent southeastern Indiana. My district covers a large swath of rural land, and my southern Indiana neighbors are some of the brightest and most hardworking people you will ever meet. Urban employers who find ways to access suburban and rural workers through remote work, and distributed systems will find a goldmine of talent. My Hoosier neighbors would love the chance to live a rural lifestyle while accessing the economic opportunities of the city. It is a win-win.
My husband and I moved to the rural, southern part of the state to start a family. We wanted to raise our kids near their grandparents, and for them to enjoy the natural beauty, open spaces and slower pace of southern Indiana. After my children were born, I stayed home with them for the first few years. We didn’t have the distributed working capabilities then that we have now. If we did, I could have been a valuable remote employee and a stay-at-home mom. Many of my friends and neighbors are similarly situated today.
Technology has allowed us to rethink how—and where—we work. COVID-19 has made this a more pressing concern. As we move into the next session of the Indiana General Assembly, I will be looking for opportunities to make it easier for businesses to implement remote working and encourage distributed systems to benefit employers and employees. I hope Hoosier businesses will seize this opportunity to reach into untapped areas of the state to become more adaptable, functional, and profitable. In doing so, we can emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
By the way, the cardinals have now flown away, and the barn is backlit with the orange and purple hues of the setting sun. Work and life continues in beautiful southern Indiana.