Work from home used to be a luxury that employees could use on select occasions. Thanks to the COVID pandemic, work from home has today become a part of our lives. The pandemic and the resultant lockdown saw companies permitting employees to work from home. This was done keeping their health in mind to prevent them from getting infected.
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Work from home was a success with most companies reporting the same or increased productivity. Virtual meetings and ‘zoom conferences’ became a part of work life. People from various sectors across the world have become accustomed to working from home. With the pandemic nearing its end, most offices are resuming onsite work.
But many employees don’t want to come back to office. They would rather prefer to work from home. Most companies also don’t mind and are increasingly allowing their employees to continue working from home. Work from home could thus become a part of our business life in the future. We take a hard look at the work from home trend in businesses
WFH – Then and Now
Earlier work from home was a trend that most companies frowned at. Companies believed that employees working at home would be less productive since they would be distracted by family and personal work. They were also of the view that those who work from home would not be able to attend meetings and have productive interactions with fellow employees.
Work from home became a way of life since the start of the COVID pandemic. Companies did not want to open their offices for the risk of the infection spreading. They came out with new policies to promote work from home. They also offered tools to help employees work effectively and even encouraged online meetings.
It was found that employees who worked from home had higher productivity levels than before. Of course, employees were under pressure because they had to manage both responsibilities at home with office work. In fact, most employees ended up working for more time than at office. Working until late in the night became common.
Virtual meetings with colleagues, online training, and conferences became easy thanks to the use of tools like Zoom. Various software tools allowed for online work collaboration making sharing of data easy. The quick way in which employees adapted work from home made companies rethink their policies on it.
In the business operations, similar situation pushed business owners to get out of their comfort zone, moving their business operations into their homes. Some repurpose rooms of the house, some others repurpose their garden sheds and turn those into office sheds. Some even took one step further, adopting everything-virtual into their business by getting a virtual mailing address, hire a virtual receptionist, and even testing the water by jumping into the metaverse.
IT Companies Lead The Way
IT companies have employees who use their laptops to work. It doesn’t matter too much whether they work from home or from office. The use of cloud computing has ensured work can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. Most of the companies in the Information Technology domain have heartily adopted work from home.
Prominent among them are Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Shopify, and Facebook. Some companies like Twitter have informed their employees that they can even choose to work from home ‘permanently’ if they so wish. This is a change in approach of companies that earlier were not in favour of work from home.
An interesting statistic comes from a study by Pew. Prior to the pandemic, only 7% of the US workforce had access to flexible workplace options. The remaining 93% had no option but to work from offices. Things have changed today with flexibility becoming the new norm. Apart from work from home, companies are giving a hybrid option for their employees.
The Hybrid Workplace
People can now choose to either work from home or a hybrid option where they continue to work from home but also work for some time at offices. This option is convenient for everyone concerned. Employees get the benefit of spending time at home with their families. They save time and money on commuting.
At the same time, they get to go to the office occasionally where they can interact with bosses and colleagues. For companies, employees working from home saves resources. It also keeps them happy, which helps HR to achieve its goal of happy employees.
The Downside of Work from Home
There are limitations and even problems that work from home pose. Here are a few of them:
- The workload on employees as well as their working hours have actually increased after work from home became the norm. Employees are expected to work even after office hours. The logic initially was that due to the lockdown they cannot go anywhere, so they may as well work.
- While this was good initially, it has now started to become the norm. Longer work hours has affected the family life of employees. Even though they are at home all the time, they are not able to give time to their family members because of work pressure. Non-stop meetings that run through the evenings has affected the social life of employees.
- The biggest downside has been the lack of social interaction. Talking to colleagues through Zoom is not a substitute for real interaction. Face-to-face interaction can help make work easier with employees getting to know each other. Those who have recently joined the workforce are finding it difficult to adjust to this new normal.
The problem has led to a new term being coined, ‘info-obesity’. With employees being online all the time, there is information overload through emails and meetings. Employees are constantly under pressure to continue their work even after office hours.
The seriousness of the situation has led France to make a new law that prohibits sending work-related emails after office hours. This can help in reducing the workload on employees allowing them quality time to spend on social interactions or with their family members. It is expected that a similar law may come up in the US in the near future.
A key point to be noted here is that not everyone can avail of work from home. Factories have machinery that have to be operated onsite. It is not possible for employees of factories to work from home. They have to be physically present at the factory to work. Similarly, retail stores and other such shops cannot offer work from home.
The reality of work from home is that only a few can benefit. Those who can avail of it should be given the flexibility of choosing it. As WFH is becoming an emerging work culture, companies should focus on providing guidelines and tools that can support the adoption. That’s why employee-friendly policies are needed to make work from home more effective.