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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
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Page 2
Page 3
Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/27235.
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1   The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that was most pronounced during the March 2020–March 2022 time period drastically impacted the global economy through government-mandated stay-at-home orders, business shutdowns, and millions of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Until the first COVID-19 vaccine was available in December 2020, the most effective methods to reduce spread of the disease were to reduce travel, increase social distancing, and wear face coverings. Each of these measures specifically impacted the travel industry, with airports experiencing precipitous declines in passenger enplanements and aircraft operations, as well as the need to provide social distancing for employees and take other steps to minimize employee exposure to COVID-19. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airport operators had to develop strategies that main- tained operations while ensuring employee safety and public health. Even with the sig- nificant business slowdown (in areas such as aircraft operations, passenger screenings, concession activity, parking activity, etc.), managers of airports of all sizes had to ensure the safe and secure operation of the airport with “essential” or “operational” employees, while allowing “non-essential” or “non-operational” employees the ability to work remotely (from home, for example). Airports were somewhat unique in this regard. The airport needed to remain open and operational, and unlike some businesses, not all employees could per- form their job functions remotely. This balance of requiring certain groups of employees to maintain an on-airport presence (with significant protections in place to prevent expo- sure to COVID-19), while other employees were either permitted or required by the airport to work remotely, is the focus of this synthesis. This synthesis study was undertaken to address the evolution of airport work models and strategies. The objectives of this synthesis were to provide information on those airports who experimented in remote work, options for airports that did not participate in remote work, and to identify emerging trends in airport work models and strategies. To reach these objectives, a three-pronged approach was developed. First, a comprehensive literature review was conducted to review all relevant literature related to working arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the dearth of literature on this topic specifically related to airports, the literature review was expanded to include all segments of the United States (U.S.) economy. Second, an online survey was developed to collect data from airport managers and airport human resources (HR) managers on the topic of remote work and alternate work arrangements. Third, an online survey was developed to collect data from airport employees regarding their experiences with working remotely during the pandemic. By including both managers and employees, it was possible to compare managerial and employee views, which varied greatly at times, on airport work models and strategies. S U M M A R Y Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies

2 Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies The airport/HR manager survey gathered data from 151 individuals, 45.21% of whom represented Part 139-certificated airports. The employee survey gathered data from 76 indi- viduals, 88.16% of whom were employed by Part 139-certificated airports. Although the country’s largest airports are represented in the results, all sizes of airports are included. Indeed, all FAA National Plan of Integrated Airport System (NPIAS) airport categories and FAA regions (excluding Alaska) were represented in the manager survey. Likewise, all FAA NPIAS airport categories and FAA regions were represented in the employee survey. In addition to the online surveys, phone calls to select airports with unique remote work practices or experiences resulted in the development of seven airport case examples and one employee case example for the report. These case examples highlight unique responses by these airports to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as some insight into work models that have been (or will be) adopted moving beyond the pandemic. Key conclusions of this synthesis are the following: 1. Eligibility for remote work. Airports commonly select employees eligible for remote work based upon the type of work performed by employees. Some employees are classi- fied as essential and remain on-site and in-person due to the nature of their work, such as conducting airfield inspections, ensuring security, and responding to emergencies. Other employees are classified as non-essential since their tasks, such as processing accounts payable, managing contracts, and maintaining information technology resources, can be performed remotely (at home or at some other off-site location). 2. Technological tools. Rapid advances in cloud-computing and technological tools such as webcams enabled significant numbers of airport employees to work remotely during the pandemic. 3. Business continuity. Whether or not an airport had an existing business continuity or crisis plan, airports were confronted with a crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic created a sense of urgency at airports nationwide to consider how to continue operating in the midst of these challenges. Some airports have created a business continuity or crisis plan and have an emergency team structure in place to ensure they are equipped to handle future crises that may cause significant disruption of the business. 4. Essential/Operational employees. Airports benefit by determining a team of essential employees that need to remain at the airport during significant events, including a pandemic. Deciding this ahead of time minimizes the need to make these staffing decision “in the moment.” 5. Back to the office. Now that the pandemic is officially over, numerous airports no longer allow employees to work remotely and are requiring all employees to be back in the office. Leadership at these airports generally see greater benefits in face-to-face interaction. 6. Remaining remote. Some airports, recognizing the benefits of remote work to both airports and employees, are continuing to allow “non-essential” employees to work remotely. These airports often have unique considerations for new employees, possibly requiring the new employees work on-site and in-person for the first 9 to 12 months before being eligible for remote work, for example. 7. Long-term accommodation of remote employees. As half of employees that have worked remotely at airports may like to continue working remotely, airports may consider how to accommodate these employees in a remote or hybrid fashion for the long term; otherwise, employee retention could be negatively impacted. 8. Enhanced hiring practices. Numerous airports have altered hiring practices for the foreseeable future to provide flexible options, such as conducting virtual interviews.

Summary 3 9. Generational similarities. For the most part, there are no differences between people of different ages regarding their level of success with remote work. 10. Sustainability of remote work. Almost half of those airports experienced with remote work feel that remote work is sustainable for their airport years into the future. Almost half of employees with remote work experience feel that remote work is sustainable for the long-term. However, less than 20% of airports experienced with remote work actually have plans to support long-term remote work. Thus, the feasibility of long-term remote work does not correspond to the plans to maintain long-term remote work for employees. 11. Employee training expectations. Employees have high expectations for training delivered at a distance. Just over 40% of remote employees feel that training is more difficult while working remotely. Oftentimes, airports fell short in this regard, leaving employees to rate in-person training as more effective. Those airports receiving high marks from employees with distance training were intentional about delivering high- quality virtual training using motivated presenters, “live” webinars, and opportunities for employees to engage in the virtual environment. 12. Benefits. Generally, burnout was not experienced by airport employees working remotely. Employees with experience working remotely speak highly of numerous benefits, including less time commuting, more time with family, more time for hobbies, less stress, and in general, better work-life balance. 13. Challenges. Employees with experience working remotely also speak of challenges, including less face-to-face interaction with co-workers and supervisors, distractions at home, and difficulty in accessing “paper” files at work. More than eight out of ten airport employees with some remote work experience feel they socialize less with co-workers while working remotely. Just over one-third of airport employees with remote work experience feel that morale among their team has suffered while working remotely. Four out of ten feel their team’s culture has suffered while working remotely. 14. Innovation. In the dynamic airport industry, innovation can be a source of competitive advantage. However, more than half of remote employees report that innovation is more difficult while working remotely. Although a remote employee may have fewer distractions and spend less time commuting, remote employees also report having less interaction with colleagues, making in-person collaboration all but impossible. Inno- vation may be more likely when in discussion and collaboration with colleagues. 15. Career progression. Generally, employees working remotely are not concerned about their future career progression, indicating that remote work has not hampered their careers. 16. New employee integration. Although remote work has numerous benefits, employees report that integrating new employees onto their team while working remotely is difficult. Indeed, three-quarters felt that it is difficult to add new members to their team while working remotely. This report does not propose best practices or provide guidance on alternate work arrange- ments at airports but does offer a synthesis of practices from 227 total airport employees on this topic. Although practices vary and lessons learned differ, themes are identified that will be useful to airport and HR managers in debriefing on the immediate effects of the pandemic, as well as the future of alternate work arrangements to retain and attract a new generation of employees.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airport operators had to develop strategies that maintained operations while ensuring employee safety and public health. Though not all airport-related tasks can be performed from remote worksites, many airports identified tasks that could be performed remotely.

ACRP Synthesis 126: Impacts of COVID-19 on Airport Work Models and Strategies, from TRB's Airport Cooperative Research Program, provides information on those airports that experimented in remote work, provides options for airports that did not participate in remote work, and identifies emerging trends.

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