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Work from Home (WFH) is a practice that has been demanded by workers even before COVID-19 crisis struck, but now we’ve seen an unprecedented transition to mass remote working – a dream come true for some, but not so much for others. This mass transition is an inadvertent global experiment that has sparked much debate.
Let’s first explore a few positives of telecommuting. Time and money spent on commuting to work pose an opportunity cost, especially for those with long tiring commutes to office in traffic or crowded public transport. With WFH, that time can be devoted to getting work done, getting more rest or exercise, or any other number of ways to spend it more effectively. Reduced traffic also means reduced harm to the planet – and the difference has been visible with photographs of clearer skies posted on social media during the lockdown in various parts of the world.
People enjoy the flexibility of WFH – being at home allows them to go about their day once work tasks are complete, and in some cases allows them to choose a time of day to work when they feel more focused and productive. Working parents also appreciate this time they have to spend with their children. Lockdown may not be the ideal case, but once schools and day-cares open, there would be more quiet time to get work done.
From an employer’s perspective, there is less need to bear the rising costs of renting expensive office spaces, and WFH also means reduced energy costs. Advances in technology allow for remote connection amongst work teams – and providing flexibility means happier, more productive employees.
Contrastingly, there are those who believe that WFH is overrated. How effective the WFH experience is, depends on a person’s circumstances. For those who live alone, and socialising at office is one of the few chances they have for human interaction, remote working can be lonely. Interaction with co-workers builds team-spirit, allows for synergy of ideas, and for some people, it’s just more enjoyable.
For those living with family, it may be a struggle to find distraction-free time and space to get work done, severely impacting their productivity. Parents with young children are frustrated with having to divide their attention between looking after their bored children, and meeting work deadlines. Even for those remote workers whose families respect set boundaries, it may still feel like an invasion of private home life when family, children or even pets are required to ‘tip-toe’ around the home so as not to make any noise or appear in the background during a video call meeting.
There are other issues with video chats as replacement for face-to-face communication. Non-verbal cues like body language are more difficult to read through video, and online meetings would require more focus. Awkward silences are another issue of video chats – silence is more natural during face-to-face interaction, but is unnerving on call. Poor internet connections or video chat app inefficiencies cause frustrating delays which completely ruin the flow of the conversation. It also becomes more difficult for team leads and managers to engage with their teams through call or video. All of these strains faced over a call, on a daily basis, can result in fatigue.
There is also the question of how much work people do at home. On one hand you find employers worried that employees might slack off without supervision, and on the other you find employees working longer hours, hounded with work even outside normal work hours.
Filtering through all this debate, what’s realised is, what workers are really looking for is the compassion of employers and more flexibility. They crave a certain degree of freedom in choosing work times, whether to come into office that day or to work from home instead. Logistically or practically, there may be challenges for certain types of work to run remotely, where the need for an office cannot be diminished. However, workers should have the option of telecommuting whenever it is a feasible option – without the feeling of guilt for not coming into office. The stigma of being an undevoted employee for preferring WFH needs to be abolished. It needs to be acknowledged that there is more to life than work.
This all begs the question – why is leisure seen as an indulgent and work as the normal state? Will COVID-19 lockdown WFH propel the world into striking a balance – just as much leisure as work? It may be a pipe dream, but maybe we’ll see lasting changes in times to come, with the 2020 pandemic going down in history as the birth of mass remote working.