As COVID-19 restrictions start to ease around the world, organizations will need to prepare to transition employees back into the workplace, after millions were forced to make the sudden shift to remote working. This shift however could be made permanent, as businesses realise many employees do not want to return to the office even as shutdowns are lifted.
A survey by business publishing company get Abstract shows that almost 43% of full-time employees in the United States hope to work from home more often post-COVID-19. Singapore, a survey of over 9,000 respondents revealed 9 in 10 employees would like to retain some form of remote working after the virus is contained with 15 percent stating that they wished to continue working from home at all times.
On a business front, some companies have announced plans for remote working beyond COVID-19. Tech giant Twitter has made telecommuting a mainstay for employees whose role and situation permits them to do so, while employees of ecommerce company Shopify will continue to work remotely until 2021 as the business "reworks its physical spaces for this new reality". Singaporean-owned telecommunications company Optus has also allowed call centre staff work from home permanently in a move initially driven by the lockdowns in Philippines and India.
Of course, not all industries are able to support work from home arrangements. Employees in the retail, transport, manufacturing and health care sectors generally need to be onsite to conduct their work. It is therefore logistically impossible for them to work remotely.
Office jobs that do not require staff to be onsite are the same vein likely to allow flexible working arrangements. These jobs often include those in the sectors of finance, property, communications, technology and other business-related services. However. it can be difficult for employees in some of these office-based roles to do their job while at home due to company cybersecurity policies or online security and privacy concerns among other reasons.
For those who are able to perform most of their requisite job responsibilities on a laptop connected to the internet, there is an ongoing debate whether working from home can match the level of engagement employees get from working in a conventional office space.
Remote work advocates often city research indicating that telecommuters are more productive, like a recent survey by Qualtrics which reveals one in three Singaporean employees experienced increased productivity since working from home.
Without a physical office space to signal the distinction between work and personal life, many employees are unable to switch off from work mode at the end of the day and feel an inclination to respond to business matters at all times. This is exacerbated by employers who assume their staff can work anytime they are home and often expect tasks to be completed immediately.
Remote working also presents a very different experience as a single person versus a person with family, especially young children.
With schools and childcare closed in many countries, many parents have had to juggle looking after their kids during the day and supervising their education while working from home. A recent survey from Boston Consulting Group revealed 60% of employees were caring for their children without any outside help. Many faced issues of exhaustion and the challenge of focusing on their work during normal work hours as a result. Almost half of those surveyed also reported a decrease in their work performance due to these added responsibilities.
Single people working from home likewise grapple with their own unique set of problems, namely the feelings of loneliness.
Remote workers who live alone or with a parent or partner often struggle with the issue of loneliness due to the absence of a solid emotional support teams. A recent survey by Viking found that 62% of freelance telecommuters feel lonely on a daily basis due to the nature of their job. The pain of social isolation coupled with work-related stress may also explain why over half of the freelancers surveyed reported suffering from depression due to their job. Working alone for prolonged period can therefore result in loneliness and mental health struggles. There is hence a need to further explore the effects of remote working on employees in the context of achieving work-life balance.
Another concern with remote working is that the home environment may not be conductive for ideation and innovation thinking, especially in the absence of team members to share spontaneous ideas and discussions. Face-to-face collaboration also offers a level of convenience unmatchable through videoconferencing over Zoom. It become easier for a team to be exposed to wide variety of viewpoints, and their collective experience and expertise will allow them to solve problems more effectively.
On a social front, having a team to reply on can make for good moral support as opposed to working individually. It provides workers with the stability needed to navigate the creative process. Team support and encouragement is particularly crucial in helping employees to stay engaged.
A functional office is equally imperative in maintaining work ethic among employees. It can be challenging for staff to remain focused amid distractions at home without a manager occasionally glancing over to ensure that everyone is staying on task. It is thus easier to hold staff accountable for their assigned responsibilities in the physical workplace.
From an employee perspective, modern workspaces often feature inventive recreational areas where staff can work and have fun at the same time. This uniquely exciting experience offers employees the requite work-life balance, given the huge impact of the office on workplace productivity.
Working in conductive environment can help employees thrive - be it from the physical office or at home. People working together in the same room have been proven to tackle problems more efficiently than remote workers. Through effective teamwork, employees can get inspired by one another, leading to more creative and innovative output.