September 16, 2020 5 min read
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To say the pandemic has brought disruption around the world would be an understatement. Its impact on us will likely be profound and long-lasting—both on work and personal levels. One of the most widely experienced and life-changing consequences has been the work from home (WFH) phenomenon.
Having been confined at home now for several months, remote workers’ sentiments towards WFH have certainly been evolving. At the outset, some—especially those who were new to the remote work—might have experienced unexpected benefit from WFH. Not only did it help protect them from the risk of contagion, but it also offered them flexibility and convenience: no commute, no dress code and being able to stay close to one’s family. Some were also surprised to experience how much more ‘productive’ they could be when spared from the usual workplace distractions: conversations among co-workers and impromptu meetings that can interrupt one’s concentration and make it difficult to re-focus. From the organization’s perspective, business operations also proved to be more efficient than anticipated when staff were abruptly forced to work remotely, thanks to technology—which has even led some to question the future purpose of the office.
Recently, however, we’ve started seeing a shift in feelings about WFH which show that vast majority of employees want to return to the office. So why might the novelty of WFH be wearing off? Here are a few observations.
Everyone’s situation at home is different. Those who live in a more confined environment are faced with higher physiological and psychological discomfort when WFH is the only option. Poor lighting, inadequate ventilation, unergonomic furniture, and frequent distractions from domestic noise may induce stress and strain, ultimately hampering the quality of work.
In contrast to how we’d imagine WFH privacy, many employees’ domestic arrangements might actually make them feel more vulnerable—not less—to invasions of privacy. In one’s home, video conferencing can feel suddenly too intimate, as colleagues can see into our homes and family relationships more than we’d welcome. The presence of other members at home can also intrude on the privacy required for certain focused tasks, which eventually affects productivity.
Sense of belonging
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of love and belonging is a fundamental human need. To be cared for and be connected to is yearned for by all. In India, many employees live away from their families in distant cities for work. Social distancing and isolation from their colleagues and friends have deprived them of the human connection and interaction that is important to their mental wellbeing.
Meaning and purpose
One of the most important elements to happiness at work is knowing that your work is building towards something and helping others. This can be difficult to feel when working remotely and connecting with other solely in digital space. Most employees need to achieve a sense of purpose and accomplishment in order to boost their morale.
Productivity is hard to define in this WFH situation. While more solo tasks are easily accomplished at home, creativity and innovation, which are essential in solving complex problems, require high-performing collaboration and are difficult to achieve when teammates work apart from each other.
Lower work-life balance
One of the common misperceptions about WFH is that it offers employees better work-life balance. Certainly, no office means no commute and more time to spend with family and friends. However, employees are working longer hours each day as the line between ‘work’ and ‘home’ blurs.
Safety and security
As mentioned earlier, an inadequate set-up for work at home can pose threats to employees’ health and safety. At the same time, organizations must consider the security of information and the protection of company IP when their staff carry company information to their homes, where there is less control over who has access to the home office set-up. However, many homes cannot afford the luxury of dedicating space to protect the security of the employer’s information.
In today’s complex and constantly changing business world, organizations must stay agile and be highly adaptive in order to compete. Most businesses and teams have demonstrated their ability to accept and adjust quickly to the pandemic-related WFH mandate. However, offering employees options of where and how they work as they toggle between tasks, and providing teams with a collaborative and ergonomic environment for them to interact and innovate together will remain vital to success in the long-run.
Without a doubt, WFH has some upsides as part of an agile work strategy. After this mass experiment of WFH around the world, most of us have become more accustomed to working outside the office. Business leaders and their HR heads are also more likely to embrace WFH as a way to offer employees flexibility post COVID-19. However, we do not expect home to simply replace the office.
Whilst organizations strive to help their teams address challenges they face as they continue to be confined at home, they’d better start looking at how to modify their offices to ensure employees’ safety in the workplace too, and allow them to socialise and collaborate whilst following the new, post-COVID workplace protocols. Because their teams want to, and will, return to the office as soon as they can.