Work from home is the “new normal” in the post-pandemic world, whether one likes it or not. Before this, remote working was often frowned upon. There was a widespread belief that employees tend to be less productive and less focussed while working from home. And such a scenario was only reserved for emergencies or in a particular case of cash-starvation. But now that everyone has settled in and warmed up to the idea of remote working, it has started to be considered as somewhat lesser of an evil. Employers have started to understand that it might actually be fruitful for the organisation in the long run. Sure one will miss those endless smoke breaks and water cooler conversations, but there are a number of good, bad and ugly things associated with remote working. Let’s discuss them in detail.
Flexible work is, in a way, the future. And companies need to undergo a paradigm shift when it comes to reimagining workplaces and remote working is going to be a very important part of the process. A recent survey by Microsoft revealed that 60% of employees say work/home balance is the top benefit of working from home, followed by 55% who said that it saves gas. The third reason why 45% employees said work from home was better is that it helps them avoid traffic. Some of the other reasons they gave that made them inclined towards remote working were less stressful environment, environmentally friendly, and less distractions. That is all about what employees feel, but do businesses also have any benefits of working from home? Let’s discuss some of them in detail.
A recent survey by Microsoft revealed that 60% of employees say work/home balance is the top benefit of working from home, followed by 55% who said that it saves gas.
Work from home benefits for businesses
Reduced overhead costs
This is one of the first and a foremost benefit of remote working for employers is that it helps them reduce overhead expenditures. Office equipment, basic amenities, furniture costs, etc. can be saved upfront. There are other costs like electricity, internet, office supplies, etc. that can also be done away with. This saves a great deal of money for the organisation. The organisation can also save on social events like birthday or holiday parties. Although team building activities are important, there are ways to do that virtually, too. The company can instead focus on high-impact areas rather than spend on things like rental space and activity materials.
Studies have shown that employees who are allowed to work from home tend to be more productive than those who work in a 9-5 kind of office environment. Their increased productivity is linked to employees feeling more focussed and having greater autonomy, responsibility and accountability for their work. And a more productive employee is the best thing a company can ask for. Employees with flexible work options are known to have higher morale and enjoy their job responsibilities more than those in a traditional office environment. This will in turn lead to benefits in terms of more bottom-line earnings. Not only are there fewer social distractions, but there are also more opportunities to take necessary breaks when needed, which enhances overall performance, motivation, and creativity.
Good for the environment
In the absence of daily commute and paperless communication, employers are also doing their bit for the environment. New work cultures like videoconferencing, virtual meetings, and working from home help reduce carbon emissions. It also makes running a business more pocket friendly. It’s a win-win for all. According to a report, by making environmentally sound choices like opting to use less paper and monitoring their air conditioning, heating, and lighting, remote workers have the same potential impact on air quality as planting an entire forest of 91 million trees. Work from home is one of the cheapest ways for employers and employees to decrease their carbon footprint by reducing commuter travel.
Increases employee retention
According to an online survey by Mom Corps, 42% of employees would take a salary cut in order to have more flexible work options from their employers. Thus, flexibility is one of the most sought-after characteristics for choosing a workplace. And the flexibility that telecommuting provides is unmatched. Furthermore, remote jobs have a strong relation with reduced attrition rates. According to the Owl Labs 2019 State of Remote Work report, remote workers are 13% more likely than onsite workers to stay in their jobs over an extended period. More employee loyalty and reduced attrition also translates into less time and money spent on advertising open positions, screening and interviewing new employees.
Remote work also builds a strong case for work-life balance. It helps employees stay away from toxic work environments and increase their productivity by staying away from office politics. Moreover, it helps them get comfortably dressed and customise their work environments. This goes a long way in ensuring their mental health and wellness. This control over work schedules is invaluable. It gets the work done while ensuring that one attends to their personal life.
No geographical constraints
It can also help organisations expand their talent pools since geography is not a concern anymore. They are no longer bound by hiring locally-available talent. They can now invest in finding the right talent with the exact skills and experience required for the job. A lot of time, relocation for the right talent becomes a deterrent but work from home solves that problem. Not just within the country, employers can also hire international talent, if need be. Even for employees, it gives access to a broader range of job opportunities that can be helpful especially for people living in small towns.
Companies can choose to be more inclusive by hiring people who can work remotely at the comfort of their homes. Many people who belong to different socio-economic, cultural and psychological backgrounds can comfortably earn a living. Even those with disabilities can benefit from positive work from home policies.
In a Gartner survey, 3 out of 4 finance executives asked are considering moving at least 5% of onsite workers to a remote position permanently after the current pandemic crisis ends.
Work from home pitfalls for businesses
It’s not all that rosy when it comes to work from home. While there are considerable advantages of working from home, there are also some disadvantages that cannot be ignored.
Lack of community
Man (and woman) is a social animal, we all know. The COVID-19 pandemic made us realise the importance of socialising, going out for a movie or a drink or two. All that will be missed if companies decide to move permanently to work from home. It depends on different personalities what they prefer. While some employees would embrace the idea of working in solitude, others may find it difficult to give up socialisation and face-to-face interactions. There is a huge chunk of people who feel that nothing is more productive than sitting together and brainstorming ideas. Furthermore, working remotely can make one feel a sense of isolation too. Some remote workplaces offer regular team events to encourage socialisation
Absence of monitoring
For some employers, monitoring employees while working independently can be a tough job. It no longer gives them power to monitor their employees and the onus lies on the employees to keep a check on their performance at work themselves. In an ideal world, we would expect a mole to call themselves out but we live far from an ideal world. Self-regulation is not easy and this might be a tough call for employers whether to leave everything on the discretion of the employees who can take endless breaks and spend less time on work.
While working from home is good in some respects, it tends to make people less motivated to get up in the morning mostly due to next to no commute and no schedules to stick to. Working at an office with fellow employees, who have a common goal and purpose, can be a great source of external motivation in such a scenario. Working from home, however, lacks that kind of environment. If employees feel demotivated, they can face lack of productivity in some cases. Employers have to take care that virtually, all these issues can be addressed.
Lack of tools
Employers might have a hard time arranging for a proper work from home arrangement for their employees. Practical problems like internet connectivity issues may arise that may affect workflow. Even for employees, setting up their home office space with a high-end laptop/desktop, a high-speed internet connection, and other equipment, like printers/fax machines, etc. can be pretty taxing. Around 33% of the people who work from home don’t have the necessary access to office equipment which adds to their distress while working from home.
While office colleagues won’t be there to distract you when you’re working from home, there are million other distractions at home. Employees have often reported watching TV and childcare act as a big distraction while working from home. Never-ending household chores too take up a lot of mental space leaving little or no energy to focus on work completely. Spending time with family, too, makes it difficult to concentrate and be interested in work for long. One of the major disadvantages of working from home is loss in productivity as people tend to get distracted by comforts that they get at home. These include things like mid-day naps or playing virtual games.
There is generally no in and out timing for remote working. This can act as a big deterrent in time management and cause burnout. While it lets employees structure their days according to their convenience, but this can turn into a huge disadvantage for some employees. You can avoid this by clearly defining a schedule and allocating specific time for work tasks and personal tasks. More often than not, work tends to flow into home-life and that line differentiating it from work-life keeps blurring. This may lead to more stress in the long run. Whereas, working in an office certainly helps to draw the line between professional and private life.
Lack of communication
Working fact to face will obviously lead to better communication between employer and employees. During the times which require big decisions to be made, it is difficult to do it over a Zoom call. There are times when everybody in a big room together hashing out things works so much better.
Is it a boon or bane?
Well, grass is always greener on the other side. Depends on what floats your boat. It is for employers to decide what works best for their employees individually. Some employees are comfortable working from home, while others are waiting for the first chance to go back to their workplace. Many believe that working from home gives them an advantage of having control over their schedule and provides them with much more time for parenting and other personal pursuits. But this comfort should not come at the cost of your work. Working from home isn’t for everyone.
But at the end of the day, it depends on how different individuals react to different scenarios.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst for remote work and while there are many benefits, there are also these pitfalls an employer has to keep in mind while making a policy for the company. In a Gartner survey, 3 out of 4 finance executives asked are considering moving at least 5% of onsite workers to a remote position permanently after the current pandemic crisis ends. Others might follow suit too. It will be interesting to note the new world order after things get adjusted to the new normal. Today’s technology has made it easier to make this transition. Every business is unique, and before taking the plunge, one would need to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks as they apply to a particular business and industry. The best way to effectively communicate and manage employees is to form a work from home policy because the advantages of working remotely can’t be disregarded. It is also essential to find a mutually agreeable solution like daily or weekly check-ins in order to better manage teams and also to eliminate micromanaging by employers.