With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of slowing down soon, more and more people are now working from home.
States and cities have released shelter-in-place restrictions and have advised people to practice social distancing, but this also raises a question on whether or not this kind of set up might be effective even after things have calmed down.
Almost half of the workforce in the US is already adapting the work-from-home setup. This number is expected to only grow higher, resulting in a lot of people looking into the impact of having people do their work in their own space. Many experts have said that this would really have a significant change in society as a whole, but the success of the work-from-home arrangement of a lot of companies will depend on their communication and flexibility, especially during these times.
Research has discovered that working at home actually causes an increase in an employee’s productivity. It also helps in maintaining work-life balance and improves mental health.
Some companies have gone the extra mile to offer support for employees while working remotely. One company, Canopy, is providing reimbursement to employees for purchases on some items that might help them be more productive at work, like yoga balls to sit on. Squarefoot, a real estate company in New York, gave laptops to employees to bring home for their work.
The government has also been offering loans and grants to businesses that need support in being remote-work ready. And several companies have been holding virtual Happy Hours and Coffee Breaks to keep employees in high spirits and maintain relationships despite the distance.
Nevertheless, working at home in a way is still a privilege. This only applies to people whose work does not require them to be on-site, like computer-based work. A lot of other people do not have this option. From medical professionals to grocery staff, workers of essential businesses have no choice but to leave the safety of their homes to continue working.
WOULD THE WORK-FROM-HOME SET-UP CONTINUE AFTER THE PANDEMIC?
Whether this remote work set-up will carry through after the pandemic remains to be debated. There has been skepticism surrounding the idea among businesses.
In a March study conducted by research firm Gartner among HR executives, 76% said that the top complaints of employees during the pandemic is their managers’ concerns about productivity and engagement of their team when working remotely.
Pre-pandemic, employers have not allowed their staffers to work from home full-time or part-time. Some were in doubt whether jobs would really get done if they can’t see their employees on site.
In a recent webinar titled Is Self-Quarantine the Fabled Future of Work?, one of the co-hosts, Better Life Lab director Brigid Schulte, referred to these concerns as the “facetime culture” of the workplace (not FaceTime culture). Shulte said that employees feel the need to show their faces in person.
Researchers have also revealed that teams working face to face perform better in creative assignments compared to virtual teams. Slate’s Henry Grabar, the co-host of the webinar Future of Work, says that it is attributed to psychological safety. Employees need to feel that they can comfortably express ideas to coworkers. It can be hard to read people if you’re working online, so others tend to censor themselves and their ideas. It takes skills to be able to communicate effectively in a remote setting.
Before this pandemic, employers also didn’t have the technology to allow their employees to work remotely. According to writers Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene, in 2019, only 19% of the local governments have arrangements for telework for employees.
However, now that it has been evident that working from home is possible, more employers may allow some of their employees to work remotely for some of the time.
According to a recent report by MIT researchers, businesses and individuals may decide to stay in the current method once they have made the necessary investments on the fixed costs involved in remote work.
This decision may be partly due to demands from employees after having successfully worked remotely or to reduce real estate costs of the employer. But not everyone would want to work remotely and businesses are aware that it takes work to manage a remote team. So, they might look into a hybrid of work-from-home and on-site work.