The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the practice of working from home thrust upon most of us. While the adjustment, with its certain bonuses of reduced commutes, expense and emissions, has been publicly welcomed by many, it has forced many of us into practices we are not familiar or comfortable with, both as employees and employers.
As large employers like Barclays talk about creating permanent global work-from-home positions post-Covid, we are also reminded by healthcare professionals of the challenges of working in isolation for some.
We’re going to look at this from both sides of the coin – what are the benefits of a ‘Work From Home’ future, versus the challenges?
Organisations are being forced to embrace remote working, due to ‘stay at home’ orders, and are finding proof in the process that productivity hasn’t necessarily suffered, and that there are many operational, logistical and financial benefits to working this way (i.e.: reduced need for large offices, and meetings held over video calls negating the need for travel, accommodation and venue bookings). This coupled with the need to cut costs amid what may be a prolonged global economic slump, is inspiring employers to make these changes permanent.
Some benefits to working from home that organisations are considering include:
- Less time commuting – With less time spent commuting, and a reduction in the stress that comes with it, employees will be happier, expenses will be lower, and employees will be able to put in more ‘billable’ hours during time that would otherwise have been spent travelling to and from work.
- Better work-life balance – Work-life balance has been trending for years, and with this enforced pandemic downtime, blessing the lucky of us with more time with family or favourite pastimes, it is bound to be an even more favoured post-pandemic. Giving employees commute time back, and the ability to work from their homes and be near their families, with free time at the end of the day, can create happier employees who are more productive.
- Reduced requirements for office supplies and in-house catering – Where employees are largely working from home, there is less need for provisions within the workplace, such as stationery, toiletries and sundries, office snacks and catering for canteens, meetings or conferences.
- Reduced environmental footprint – By reducing employee commutes, office space used and subsequent emissions and waste created, organisations can prove that they are reducing their environmental footprint – a factor that appeals to potential business partners and future employees.
- Geographical freedom in recruiting – Without being restricted by location, employers can recruit the best employees for the roles, rather than the best of whomever lives nearest to their offices.
With all the benefits considered, we mustn’t forget that this global shift to working from home was not inspired or voluntary. The lockdown has been stressful and even traumatic for many people. Even more so for those who are required to work from home in addition to being carers and homeschool teachers, maybe while navigating devastating loss.
Although there are practical, logistical and financial benefits to the work-from-home model, it needs to take into account the human factor – not everyone wants to work from home, and not everyone can successfully do it.
Concerns regarding working from home include:
- Loneliness and Mental Health Issues – Humans are social beings who need connection and a sense of community, and to feel a part of something. For many, working from home and without the physical presence, inspiration, support and camaraderie of a team, loneliness and mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression are factors that can lead to a lack of productivity and motivation.
- Distractions – Working from home or remotely comes with distractions – family members may need our attention, or the home may be a difficult environment for focusing. There may be noisy neighbours. If working from coffee shops, there is background noise and the potential for poor Internet speeds or connectivity.
- Failure to Unplug – For many, the beauty of working in an office or workplace is that they are able to shut down and go home at the end of the day. Working from home and the constant connectivity that comes with it can make it difficult for some employees to ‘switch off’ at the end of the working day, leading to increased stress and poor time management habits in some cases.
- Inability to ‘Read’ Situations – When face-to-face or in the physical presence of colleagues, we are able to hear tones and inflections, see, sense and detect signals and read body language that tell us more than viewing a mildly pixelated face on a video call will. These abilities reinforce our sense of psychological safety – without being able to use them, we risk the potential for letting a situation turn toxic or missing out on vital cues.
- Cyber Security Issues – Away from the pre-installed workplace firewalls and the overseeing eye of the IT department, there are the threats of cyber attacks to consider. These have seen a steep increase since the start of Covid-19. Employees could click on what looks like an innocent link within an email, inviting viruses and malware into the network. There is also the concern of data leaks and even data theft by employees.
There is no doubt that there are many benefits for organisations in continuing the ‘work from home’ model post-pandemic, and in the face of the global economic downturn, it may even be necessary for some organisations’ survival. But these same shifts should not be swept in without the consideration of the human and psychological issues that come with making a change like this permanent.
Making plans and drawing conclusions about the future of home working while we are still in a pandemic is difficult. Indeed, working from home does have the potential to become a part of our ‘new normal’, but organisations must not be fooled into believing it will be the simple answer to any post-pandemic financial challenges they may face.
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