Nov, 2020 - By Nilanjana Chakraborty
Working from home has been in place for several employees and employers before COVID-19 shook the world. However, remote working measures are nowhere near up to scratch. Even though technology is the driving force for smooth remote working, the biggest challenge is that nobody imagined that there might be a need for it. In spite of digital transformation being prominent, only few organizations have allowed remote working. Even if they did, it included flexibility of working from home for a few days and not it being the order of the day. In fact, a lot of people prefer working from office even if work-from-home is available in order to be more productive at work. COVID-19-19 shook the world overnight. Even though the concept of work-from-home was prevalent in sectors such as Information Technology (IT) it was simply non-existent in certain sectors such as Government, Healthcare etc. As the need for physical distancing trumps all other concerns, the office space may be steadily but slowly losing its role as a crucible of productivity. COVID-19-19 has forced companies to switch to working from home very quickly. Say hello to the new workplace, your home. Although work-from-home is not a new concept to the IT industry, the workforce is now becoming disposed and diverse. For Microsoft, the choice of working from home may have been simplified by the employee’s familiarity with the company’s own Microsoft Teams, a widely used app with video conferencing tools and other software to make it easier for workers to share files and work together, even when they are apart. But for companies outside the tech industry, mandating work-from-home has been more complicated. In 2017-2018, only about 25 percent of U.S workers worked at home at least occasionally and only 15% had days on which they had worked at home, according to the U.S bureau of Labor Statistics.
It isn’t surprising that the transition to work-from-home was easier for tech driven industries. However, for many others the nature of work does not allow work-from-home. The nature of many jobs is such that they cannot be completed without stepping out of your home. If we look at the practicality of work-from-home, technological advancements have made a lot of tasks simpler, but the fact remains that no matter how technologically advanced we get, there are some jobs that cannot be done from the comfort of our homes. Apart from technology, many people lack the space required to work. With children having online classes and, both, husband and wife working from home, lack of multiple devices and adequate Wi-Fi connectivity are serious challenges. Managing household chores and children, while working from home is an additional stress for both the partners. However, what will happen post COVID-19-19 is a question that still remains? Remote working will differ depending upon the industry, nature of business and a lot of other factors. The tradition of the workplace will change forever. Large scale companies adopting work-from-home will consider hiring people from all over the globe. There will be no boundary for the right talent. Companies will have to focus on productivity rather than hours logged. COVID-19 has caused employers to move away from traditional thinking that productivity is contingent up on set hours within an office environment. There will be a need to invest in cybersecurity as data cannot be risked. Low operational costs and long-term sustainability are a major boon to companies. It will be common to see trends such as employees coming to work only for 2 days a week or only few employees coming to work. Companies such as Fujitsu, Twitter, Google and Facebook are all extending their work-from-home options. Siemens is the latest company to announce that employees may work from wherever they want for two or three days a week, stating that COVID-19-19 gives us a chance to reshape our world and reimagine work. With remote working being the new normal during COVID-19, it is very important for employers to focus on employee wellbeing. Companies need to invest more efforts in engaging employees and motivating them.
A Barclay’s Research survey of UK employees showed more than half of people expected to work-from-home some of the time after the pandemic is long gone. Those surveys are corroborated by similar results from other surveys as well- nearly 75% of employees considered the experience as positive and almost 60% would work-from-home after the pandemic if they were allowed to do so by the employer. The second key piece of evidence is that 70% of U.S employees who are still coming to the office during the pandemic are spending nearly half a day less per week there compared to the last year.
“It stands to reasons that as employees who have become home full time return to the office, they will spend even less time there than those who need to go to the office amid the pandemic” authors of the report wrote.
Remote working comes with its pros and cons
A 9 to 5 desk job prevents you from being able to handle almost anything else that comes up in the day, such as something as simple as a doctor’s appointment. With work-from-home being the new normal, work has never been more flexible. There is no time spent on commuting which gives employees more time to focus on important errands. Apart from time, money is also saved. It is also known to improve productivity as there are lesser interruptions from colleagues, unimportant meetings and idle chitchat. It would also give a better work-life balance for the people who need it such as part-time students, new mothers, parents who want more time with their kids or looking after the elderly. When we look at work-from-home from the employer’s point of view, it allows companies to rethink their expensive office space. Master card is currently looking at consolidating some of its offices while Facebook has plans for working “Hubs” across the US. It also allows companies to choose from a larger pool of potential employees as there is no need to stick to physical spaces. Furthermore, companies that did not have strong employee engagement might find that the digital transformation brought about by enforced remote working actually improves their working practices.
Employees are saving time on travel but spending more time on communication and collaboration between departments. When you work from an office setup, the mind is focused on work, and home chores are the least of your concerns, which might not be true in case of a home setup. Also, staying at home for long periods of time can be depressing. Thus, it is becoming more and more difficult for organizations to maintain a positive work environment. Moreover employees are missing out on working together in a team. Team-work promotes brainstorming which brings out creativity and innovation. Where we see work-life balance being a major advantage of work-from-home, it can also be disadvantageous. Longer working hours, higher workload and fewer breaks is something that has been observed during the pandemic. Many organizations do not follow fixed work hours and end up over-exerting their employees. This not only stresses out the employees but also creates an unhealthy work environment. Organizations need to be more focused on employee engagement and employee motivation when they are working remotely.
Just like two sides of the same coin, work-from-home has its pros and cons. However, in the midst of COVID-19-19, a lot of organizations have made work-from-home not only possible but also successful. In spite of its disadvantages, it has proven to be a great way to work not only for employees but also for employers. According to Business World, an estimated 8.4 million days of time will be saved from reduced commuting hours due to the rising trend of working from home.
Recently, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, announced that their employees can work-from-home permanently even after the pandemic ends. Google told employees that the remote working policy will be extended till May 2021. Most Information Technology (IT) companies and Tech Giants are encouraging majority of their staff to opt for work-from-home.
When we look at the wider picture of work-from-home, with time and experience, a pleasant off-shoot of the new flexible workplace might provide an impetus to gender parity. Moreover, working from home may enable more women to come back into the workforce.
Before the COVID-19, we see employees requesting work-from-home as a sign low commitment. However times have changed and so have our minds. Work-from-home is seen as a great way to work. It is not only beneficial to employees but also to organizations. There will be a few sectors which may not allow work-from-home to prevail but for sectors where it is possible, it will be the order of the day.
Work-from-home is here to stay.