Like a thief in the night, a virus crept in on the last quarter of 2019 and drew the world to a pause as it sent everyone hiding in their homes in fear of being hit. All over the globe, establishments kept closing down as everything went into a (hopefully temporary) halt.
Because of this, the number of people working from home has made a tremendous increase this year, with many business owners who wish to continue operating their businesses shifting into a remote work set up to avoid losses amidst the threat of an incoming global economic crisis. They cannot exactly be blamed for wanting to continue work as it is highly imperative for most businesses to continue being operational. People have a variety of needs that should be attended to, and this includes essential goods (e.g. food, water, personal care products, etc.), transportation of goods, communication, internet connectivity, and more. This crisis has sent us into a worldwide experiment in working remotely, forcing industries to adapt to modern times and venture out into the digital world whether they like it or not, as this is currently the only way to keep their businesses afloat without compromising public health and safety.
With remote work currently becoming a norm among industries - most especially in the technology sector - more and more people are asking: when the global health crisis is over, will companies continue to adopt the work-from-home set up, making this our new normal?
Going back to the age of B.C. (Before Crisis)
Prior to the crisis, forward-thinking employers have already begun exploring flexible work arrangements, with the most popular set up being four days in the office and one day at home. More and more of these companies are seeing the value of applying this particular arrangement, as it is not just a convenient route to take for employers and employees alike, but is also cost-effective. Moreover, this also allows major roads to become less congested and employees to become less prone to work fatigue.
While many have doubted the effectiveness, and more so the efficiency, of this type of set up, people argue that implementing a remote work day has actually boosted productivity among employees both at home and in the office. However, the majority of companies operating with a physical set up prefer things to remain the way they have always been, as the traditional set up has worked for the longest time.
Moving forward to the age of A.D. (After Disease)
Once everything in the health sector has gone back to normal, business owners will be faced with the question of whether or not they should set things back in motion at the office, retain their work-from-home set up, or propose a completely new work arrangement with flexible options for their employees. The purpose of this article is precisely to help you with making a decision on this aspect. Returning to the outside world after being stuck on quarantine can already be overwhelming as it is, which is why we would like to help you ease into it and begin weighing out the pros and cons of working from home.
There are many tools you can use to maximize remote work, but first and foremost, one must have access to a desktop or a laptop, and a fast and stable internet connection. Some companies also require noise-cancelling headsets for cold calling or audio and video conferences, as well as a quiet and tidy space in your home. Many households already have these tools to begin with, so starting their remote work journey can be a piece of cake.
However, most of us fail to remember that working from home is a privilege because not everyone has the capacity and the resources to access even the most basic tools of remote work. Many employees rely on company-issued computers and office WiFi to fulfill their tasks, so what happens to those who are unable to afford their own computers and a stable internet connection? While it is true that there are companies that issue laptops and shoulder internet costs for their remote workforce, many companies are still unable to provide these tools due to budget limitations or even misguided expectations that their employees already have these at home.
One of the most obvious pros of working remotely is its cost-effectiveness. Apart from not having to pay rent or mortgage on a physical office, employers also get to save on monthly utility bills as this is carried over to the remote workers’ personal internet and electricity consumption. While this may seem like a disadvantage to the employee, remote work also helps them save on both time and money. With the absence of the stresses of daily commute, employees have more time to rest before their shift. They are also able to spend money allocated for their lunch and transportation to work on more important expenses for their respective households. When it comes to saving money, it is absolutely no question that remote work is the more practical option over the traditional physical set up in the office.
Sociability (or the lack thereof)
What we are going through can be considered an introvert’s reprieve from the social responsibilities of a typical office worker. Being forced to directly interact with people every single day at work can take its toll on an introvert’s mental health, and so this work-from-home policy during the quarantine period allows for them a time to breathe and take a break from the rest of the world. However, what may seem like an advantage for one’s mental health could be a disadvantage to another.
According to Buffer.com’s State of Remote Work 2019 Report, 19% of remote workers say that one of the biggest challenges they face while working from home is loneliness, while 17% shared that they are struggling with proper collaboration and communication with their team.
Speaking of proper collaboration and communication, it is also important for a business to establish an efficient means of communication within their team to ensure a seamless delivery of information and a faster process of decision-making, eventually leading to garnering more sales within a certain amount of time. In a physical office, systems are set up to promote a quicker way of communicating with people from other departments without the need of ordinary devices such as plain old smartphones. Aside from having office-wide instant messaging software, companies also have corporate accounts with internet providers which offer much faster internet speeds than personal plans. Moreover, one can simply stand up from his cubicle and walk not more than five minutes over to his colleague’s desk to communicate a message that calls for immediate attention.
While it is true that audio-video conference tools (e.g. Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, Zoho Meeting, Skype) and instant messaging using ordinary communication applications (e.g. Slack, Mattermost, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger) can be done online to imitate face-to-face discussions, it is probably safe to say that nothing beats physical interaction when it comes to providing better communication.
Perhaps the biggest debate about adopting a remote work arrangement revolves around the issue of productivity. Half of those who have already implemented such an arrangement reverted back to the traditional setting as they share that working from home decreased the productivity of the remote worker. Allegedly, this lack of productivity is largely due to temptations and distractions at home: having the television or Netflix on during working hours, the freedom to make unlimited trips to the kitchen, the leeway to scroll through social networking sites without the worry of being caught by your boss, and the temptation to throw yourself on your bed and lie down the entire day, among others.
On the other hand, the other half argues that working from home can actually further boost productivity as the remote worker is less prone to stress and is able to take care of his or her mental health much better as opposed to working in a physical office. Aside from being able to dodge a stressful daily commute, having the freedom to manage their time at home encourages the remote worker to keep the convenience by giving their best in their job. Being able to spend more time with their families serves as their greatest motivation, on top of having enough time for self-care and keeping their social lives in check. Having enough time to focus on each and every aspect of their lives is valuable to the remote worker, hence their dedication to increase their productivity at work as they strive to protect this work-life balance.
Be that as it may, there are always two sides in a coin. Each industry is different, more so people. What encourages one might discourage the other, and what bores one may be exciting for the other. There will always be pros and cons to working from home - just because it works for one doesn’t always mean it will for everybody else.
Many industries can adapt to and even thrive in a world with social distancing as a norm, but there are some that will suffer and maybe even disappear: brick-and-mortar retail, live events, tourism, leisure, and entertainment-related real estate, among others. Shopping malls that were once economic monsters will have to be really creative to keep up.
Once the health crisis has been resolved, perhaps it is safe to say that while not everyone will continue this set up, significantly more companies will allow some of their employees to work from home at certain times. But for now, we can only be grateful for technology as it provides most of us with the opportunity and privilege of keeping our jobs without compromising our health and safety.
While only time can tell if working remotely can truly become a norm, suffice to say, this situation we are in has just changed the future of work.