The pandemic impact on remote work and remote conferences by Jessica Oo

Each year we meet incredible women at womENcourage™ celebrations. We ask womENcourage participants to tell their stories in blog posts. We continue 2022 with Jessica Oo who was studying Pharmaceutical & Industrial Chemistry at the University of Limerick in Ireland when she participated in the event. She was aiming to pursue a part-time master’s degree in the future in the area of Project Management.  

She applied for the womENcourage scholarship despite not doing a computer science degree as she really resonated with the theme of the conference, ‘Bridging Communities to Foster Innovation’ and felt that a project to launch a podcast discussing Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (WiSTEM) issues would suit the conference theme!

She wrote an article about the remote work and remote conferences in the context of the pandemic from her perspective.

When the pandemic first made headlines in western media around December 2020, no one could have imagined the longstanding impact of the deadly virus. With lockdowns being put into place with no clear easing of restrictions, millions across the continent were suddenly forced to adapt to a change in work and lifestyle, especially those in offices. 

On one hand, what springs to mind for many is work-from-home and the sudden lack of segregation between home and the workplace. While for some this proved to be a difficult circumstance, others thrived with these new home office conditions. Workers were achieving heightened levels of productivity by cutting out the daily commute and general noise of the office setting. Employees with families were able to incorporate time with their loved ones throughout the workday. Many were even able to take up new hobbies or work on self-improvement with the additional time generated through work-from-home productivity. 

Another aspect of remote working that had unexpected benefits was the flexibility of conferencing around the globe. The standard became online meetings and as such opportunities were being extended to those around the world, who otherwise would have had to transplant themselves to whole new continents to avail themselves of work opportunities. An example of such an opportunity was the ACM womENcourage Conference being made available to a wider group by being shared through an online platform. As an incredibly lucky attendee of this year’s conference, I do not think I would have had the opportunity to attend the conference and meet others across a diverse range of scientific fields had it not been for the change to a virtual conference. The committee behind the digitalisation of this year’s conference must be commended for their creativity, technical skills, and care for accessibility. 

Unlike ACM, not all organisations have been able to seamlessly incorporate conferencing for the online setting. It has become clear that the formation of a well-balanced virtual workspace has become essential to the success of a business during the pandemic. Many companies who had not yet modernised their systems had to either build from scratch or restructure the work environment to a cloud-based setting. In that regard, remote working has benefited companies by allowing them to recruit talent internationally for years to come with the new work-from-home IT infrastructure available. The talent pool for major companies has expanded by unimaginable limits with diverse and inclusive workforces becoming more and more common.

In summary, while the pandemic undoubtedly had negative consequences for the working world, it challenged the status quo and introduced the global workforce to a new approach of workplace interaction. Staff morale was boosted with the increased amount of personal time that came with work-from-home. Online conferencing became more common place and integral to connecting teams across the world. With governments easing restrictions, finding the delicate balance between work-from-home and on-site hours will be key to engaging with employees, especially those who joined their company during the transition to full-time work-from-home.

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