When WHO declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic last year, no one had any idea of how long it would stay. Despite countries adopting nationwide lockdowns, travel bans, and social restrictions, the global catastrophe became imminent. Further, the pandemic caused massive disruption among the working population in almost every country. Subsequently, commuting to work continued to be no longer an option for many people due to quarantine and social isolation protocols, and work from home became the norm.
Now, as we move into another year of the pandemic, the benefits and limitations of working from home are well-established. Although several countries have reopened their economies, executives have predicted that remote working could remain constant for years to come.
The cultural and technological restructuring of working conditions due to Covid-19 resulted in a tectonic shift towards the adoption of “work from home” by professionals. Several businesses have redrafted their remote working policies and tried making things as comfortable as they can be for their employees. Yet, the prolonged duration of working from home is taking its toll on the mental health of many professionals.
Since such an extent of remote working is unprecedented in human history, realizing its impact in shaping professionals’ lives is crucial. However, can remote working become sustainable? What can the professionals expect in the future? What challenges might they face in having harmony in their work and life? Let’s find out.
Working from home – A privilege during the Pre-Covid Era?
“Work From Home” (WFH) policies were prevalent among companies even during the pre-Covid period. However, estimating how many people actually availed of the facility could be complex. The perception of working from home was immensely negative, as managers were very sensitive in letting employees telecommute. Several stereotypes like “having an easy time” or “being less productive” also tarnished the professional reputations of employees across the world. Not surprisingly, statistics show that only 7% of US and 10% European employees worked from home before Covid-19.
There are not only perceptions, but largescale working from home also is not viable in some industries. Financial organizations or companies dealing with secure data in Offshore Development Centers (ODC) had to take care of legal compliance. Similarly, heavy industries, construction companies, and agro-based entities rely on physical labor, making remote working difficult for their employees. Differences were also observed in developed and developing nations, where the economy’s dependency varies within primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors.
Covid-19: Remote Working is the new normal
Covid-19 resulted in a massive transformation, both in the mindsets of working professionals and in the adoption of technology. As companies were forced to implement WFH protocols, several patterns begun emerging gradually. Currently, almost 71% of the US professionals work remotely (August 2020), and 54% want to continue with the current status even after the pandemic ends.
Yet, the expectations of permanent WFH might not be valid for some industries. The remote working scenario is beneficial for the IT, financial, management, or technical and scientific sector as they depend more on accessible technologies. It can grow even further since multiple software and hardware can solve the existing bottlenecks of employee-employer coordination. However, the future scope of remote working could be truncated for people working in mining, manufacturing, construction, or logistics. Although, the hierarchical positions could become a reason for variations in these sectors. The following graph shows the remote work potential for various industries and growth expectations (Source: McKinsey & Company).
Benefits of Work From Home
Working from home has several benefits. Although we cannot deny that some of us love an occasional nap, especially having a sumptuous lunch, the professional advantages are many for both employees and employers. No wonder statistics show that the average productivity of companies has grown by almost 47%, with people primarily working from home.
Among the visible benefits that apply to almost all employees are the freedom and flexibility it offers. There is no mandatory requirement of changing into office clothes, sitting at a designated cubicle, or keep staring at a fixed computer screen while looking out for the boss with the corner of the eye. Unless there is a deadline or a scheduled meeting, employees can work at their own pace and ease. Moreover, remote working saves loads of time spent on the commute to and from the office every day. People can take care of the elderly at home and spend time with the family in between work, which allows a perfect work-life balance for many.
For employers, the benefits vary from saving on expenses like supervision of office space, manage employee absenteeism, reduce office politics, and increase productivity through constant connectivity via several communication tools. Employers can also improve their talent pool by hiring candidates from different locations as the restrictions regarding commuting are now minimized.
Even though the benefits of working from home seems lucrative, cracks have begun appearing when it comes to individual perspective. The following section identifies some of them, which are becoming a cause of concern for many employees.
Challenges and Real-life Impact of Work From Home
The extended duration of working from home is causing a few practical issues for almost every professional. Having gone through some of them myself and asking around helped me identify four genuine issues that employees are usually facing.
Working from home has a lot of distractions. Professionals might find it hard to concentrate on their work if they have children, pets, or family gathered around most of the time. There could also be a compulsion of handling household chores, attending phone calls, or watch TV. As a professional, the wise thing to do is isolate oneself into a room during the scheduled hours. All other things can be done during small breaks or after office hours. Self-discipline is the key here, and it has to be practiced on an individual level.
Working from the office gave us 9-10 hours every weekday to take care of our professional responsibilities. We had a scheduled time of arriving at work and leave at the end of the day. Now, the obligations of checking in the office have reduced. Subsequently, many professionals fall prey to unproductive activities like procrastination, sleeping in, checking their social media accounts frequently, and more. This results in a complete breakdown of the working schedule, and often employees have to slog through the wee hours to complete their tasks within the deadline. Although not in the office, sticking to a particular schedule is crucial to avoid unnecessary stress while working remotely.
3. Personal and professional life balance
The prime cause of concern for most employees in the current situation is blurring the boundary between personal and professional lives. Ideally, home is a place we relax. But having to work in our own home is increasingly stretching the working hours into the personal space. The lack of proper work scheduling or unrealistic expectations of managers expecting employees to work even during odd hours or even on weekends is the primary cause of such incidents. As mentioned earlier, adequate scheduling is necessary on the personal front to avoid spillage of work. Further, managers need to consider the ethical part of demanding extra work after the official hours. Unless professionals allow themselves to balance work and life, they will burn out sooner with excess workload and stress.
4. Lack of communication, coordination, direction, and supervision
Remote working results in minimized communication with teammates and colleagues due to their physical absence. Although video conferences, phone calls, and team chats software are available in plenty, it lacks the spontaneity we had in the office. This results in loss of productivity, confusion among teammates, and isolation among the employees. The lack of physical presence also reduces the opportunity to work in a team or network. Although constant conversation or vigilance is not possible, employees must reach out to the concerned people in case of uncertainty during work.
Adapting to remote working is a necessity in the current scenario now. Therefore, it is in our best interest to stay motivated and disciplined while working till the time normalcy returns.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented abundant opportunities and challenges that are reshaping the future of work. Irrespective of whether Covid-19 stays or not, the professional community has to work remotely for some time to come. The benefits of working from home far transcend its challenges, although some glitches need to be ironed out. Yet, the truth is, remote working is here to stay now. We should prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities to find a way to achieve harmony in work and life while working remotely.
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