For the third time in my life, I found myself needing back surgery. And this time, I needed it during a global pandemic. As you might imagine, this meant I ended up working from home in a lot of pain for a long time before I finally had the procedure. To make matters worse, I also ended up falling and breaking my ankle in the meantime as my back issues started affecting mobility in my feet. 

By the Fourth of July 2020, I finally had that surgery, but complications brought on new problems that required a second surgery — now my fourth if you’re still keeping track. Long story short, I spent most of that summer in my recliner. Even still, I was able to keep running my business. 

Thanks to company and staff support, a solid broadband connection, and COVID-19, despite the pain and immobility of my situation, I never missed a beat. 

Pandemic precautions kept me in the game, even on the disabled list

In a story like this pre-pandemic, maybe I would have applied for disability and wasted away in that recliner. Unable to do the tasks traditionally required of “going to work” — getting up, driving to an office, sitting at a conference table — I would have given up on investing my available energy into anything. But, this story happened during COVID-19, and everyone already had the expectation that people would be working from home. 

As long as I could sit in my chair, I could still work. Don’t get me wrong – I couldn’t do much. I couldn’t drive; couldn’t even take steps. But, my brain was still working. Add in pandemic measures to accommodate remote work, and this meant that so was I. 

The pandemic forced us all to figure things out fast. It was like a language immersion program but for Zoom conferences and Teams chats — we learned new ways of doing business because there was no other choice but to adapt. Now, everybody en masse knows how to use these new tools and can easily integrate them to work together. The pandemic facilitated a more flexible work model. 

Surviving has become second nature

With my brain focused on work, even while recliner-bound at home, I could overlook the pain of my condition. It’s like how “Crossing The Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore describes overcoming obstacles — either what lies beyond it must be so enticing, or the fire behind you must be so intense that you jump to action fast enough before the mind gives in to human nature: resistance. In my situation, being able to continue to perform my job despite a disability was a great enticement to cross the chasm, but there was much more to it than that. 

The fire was also burning behind me, just as it was burning behind everyone. I didn’t have a choice, and neither did the rest of my company. We had to figure out how to keep working to survive  — a familiar narrative across the country. But, as businesses adapted in response to the pandemic, they also discovered new benefits to work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid models, like how much more flexible businesses can be in the cases of injury or disability with the adaptive tools of remote work. 

Things are getting better, in more ways than one

WFH and hybrid models allow the right person to do the best job in any situation. They create opportunities for full productivity, not only in individual performance but company-wide. Before, my disability would have kept me at home unable to perform critical roles, and yet, during a pandemic, my company managed to grow 10% despite it. High-quality fiber optics and broadband allowed me to be in constant communication with a team of over 400 essential workers, and always being in step with them kept me working to my full capacity despite my condition. 

That fusion of more home-based work models and improved fiber optics and broadband is what will really drive this movement into the future. Along with working from home, the need for fiber optics and high-speed broadband has effectively exploded. What was once a luxury that kids asked for to play cooler videogames is now a necessity to manage the heavier load of the increase in distance learning and WFH situations. Now, when broadband service providers offer higher speeds, adoption rates skyrocket. 

If WFH and hybrid models are the wave of the future, then expect a swell of new opportunities along with it: new jobs in new places to align with these changing dynamics. Back when I was growing up, if I wanted a professional career, I had to leave rural southwestern Minnesota to find it. Now, with access to high-speed broadband, even rural markets have the potential for the expansion of new opportunities. 

While it was a pandemic that forced us to recognize the needs and methods, WFH and hybrid models are now proving that they provide better lifestyles for employees and C-suite executives alike. This is what we should be striving for and what better broadband can provide for us. Before these new work models really take off, we should address the digital divide and ensure equal access to high-quality fiber optics and broadband so WFH and hybrid economic environments can benefit all communities. By doing so, we will ensure that everyone, regardless of their situation or condition, has the ability to do their job and do it well.