The year 2020 has been an unprecedented one in the history of humankind. We saw cities that are always packed with humans turn into ghost towns overnight. We were warned, strongly encouraged, and in some instances, legally forced to not to step outside of our homes and not meet our friends and family.
We saw the most successful industries and businesses crashing down in a matter of minutes. Across the world, schools shut down, recreational spots closed, and businesses were forced to adopt new methods of operating; primarily remote work.
All this happened because a minute virus, COVID-19, which cannot be seen from the naked eye appeared unexpectedly and took the world by storm.
The COVID-19 virus has an extremely high rate of transmission, which makes it incredibly contagious. The novel virus and its high rate of transmission forced humanity to think of new ways of living, and one of these new ways is work from home or remote working.
But, before we debate about whether companies should work from home or not, let us understand what remote work is.
Remote work entails that physical offices of companies close or are no longer operational and employees (executive and management) work from the ‘comfort’ of their homes.
Due to COVID-19 and the high infection rate that it resulted, governments imposed nation-wide lockdowns, which prompted (forced) companies to close their physical offices and introduce a work from home model.
However, with offices closed, companies could not afford to suspend or shut their business for a long time. Therefore, most of them, including the giant tech companies (Apple, Google, PayPal, Facebook, Amazon), and many more announced a work from home policy.
Under the policy, employees did not have to come to the physical offices, instead they had to work from the comfort of their homes using laptops.
However, as the COVID-19 storm has subsided, a debate has ensued in the corporate world, whether companies should continue with their remote work policy in the long-run? Or abandon it as soonas the storm clears?
Before we indulge into the debate, we will weigh the benefits and shortcomings of remote work. The foremost benefit of remote work as follows:
According to Forbes, employees that tele-work (work from home) are 30-45% more productive than their office counterparts.
The increase in productivity could be due to multiple reasons, such as, the employees do not have to get up early to get to their office at 9 am. Or, the hustle and bustle and the insane traffic while coming to office in the morning might drain their energy and ruin their mood, which negatively affects their productivity.
While remote working, employees have full control of their work environment. They can sit wherever they want, eat whenever they want and have multiple short breaks during the day, a luxury that they are deprived of at a physical office.
Since workers do not have to drive to their offices, there is a less likely chance that they will be absent. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Revie, work from home decreased absenteeism by a whopping 40%!
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People like flexibility and they are more likely to revolt against a dictatorial regime. Well, employees will not exactly revolt against their bosses, but they do appreciate bosses who are kind, engaging, and flexible.
As per a study conducted on Qualitrics, employees stated that they are 54% more likely to stay in a company that is flexible with its working policy, even if they are paid less.
In a world where real estate prices escalate more then they come down, its not easy to imagine how much money organizations spent on rent or office buying costs. It must be exorbitant, to say the least.
Then, of course, there are utilities costs. The cost of electricity, gas, internet, and water is often a lot more for businesses than for households. But, with remote work in place, there is a significant decrease in an organization’s operational costs.
According to an article published on Forbes, an average American medium-sized business saves about $11,000 a month on operational costs due to remote work.
In addition, some companies, the big tech ones especially, offered free food to their employees. However, as employees began working from home, such expenses also came to an end.
More so, social events, parties and meetings also scooped-in huge sums of money, but with remote work, nothing of this sort had to take place, which translated into savings.
Face-to-face meetings and events were often a nuisance and caused a lot of disruption and issues. It is immensely difficult to organize a physical meeting, one must have a record of every person before scheduling a meeting.
But with remote work that is no longer the case. With remote work, the office administrator has access to everyone’s calendars and thus, can easily manage and host a meeting for everyone to meet at a designated time.
Also, Zoom meetings are ten times cheaper than physical meetings.
Before COVID-19, people were of the belief that some jobs cannot be done online, teaching, for instance. Teaching, they believed, relies heavily on teacher-student interaction and physical classes can never be replaced by robots.
However, as the COVID-19 storm took on the world, schools transitioned towards online learning and became e-schools.
With remote work in place, an individual’s physical location is no longer a barrier. A person may sit in Japan and his company may be located in Australia, he can still work, as long as he has the proper infrastructure that allows him to do his work properly.
It is true that due to the novel virus, we were forced to transition to remote work, but the work model works well for some industries and not for others.
Remote work is efficient for tech companies that require people to write codes or do not require teamwork. However, businesses that entail physical handling of goods or require a group of people to work together on a project find remote working inefficient, wasteful, and time-consuming.
Stefil, a financial corporation that designs projects and prototypes, requires that a large team or large group of people work together to design a project. With work from home, the teams cannot get together to brainstorm ideas or make (physical) changes to the product.
According to an insider working in the company, due to remote work, their work slowed down significantly, projects that took two days to build, were built in a week or two week; questions that could be answered in an hour, took days to be answered.
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With employees and their families staying at home all the time, married employees had an added responsibility of looking after their children.
In normal days, they said, if they were working from home, their children would be at school, but due to the virus, they stayed at home, which meant that they too, needed to be looked after. Employees problems often increased when both the parents worked full-time, and day care centers also closed down.
Financially strong parents were able to hire extra help to look after the children, but that is a luxury not everyone can afford.
In addition, female employees faced the heaviest brunt of the lockdown and the remote work policy. They were expected to look after their families like they would on a normal day and be efficient at work as well.
According to a study, female employees reported to be stressed and tired-out due to the situation, since the timing of their household duties, often clashed with that of their office work. Therefore, most women reported to be sleep deprived and tired than usual.
According to an article published on CNBC, the big tech companies reported that in the initial months of the lockdown and the subsequent remote work policy, there was a sharp rise in employee productivity (40-50% increase). The executive management attributed this increase to the work from home policy; however, analysts say that there were wrong.
Employee productivity was at its peak in the first months of remote work because employees feared for their jobs. They thought that if they do not work more, they might get fired. The high productivity, experts say was fear-based, which is not sustainable in the long-run.
According to some members from the executive management, some jobs become increasingly difficult to perform in a remote work environment.
Hiring new employees, on boarding, and a few human resource activities become increasingly difficult to perform in a remote work business model.
It is also anticipated that new employees do not grow as much as they would in an office environment with experience colleagues. And, no matter how many Zoom meetings you have in a day, an online meeting cannot represent or replace the company’s culture.
After the debate, what should be the conclusion? Should they make the switch or not? Well, the answer to this question depends on two factors:
While a complete remote work model may not be feasible, at least for now, companies should aim for a hybrid model, wherein certain departments (teams) come to work in a safe socially-distant environment and the rest stay at home. The newly hires should be encouraged to work in offices to make the on-boarding process smooth.
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