The World of Work Re-wired

Pros, Cons and In-betweens of Working From Home

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

There is a part of the population whose jobs and company infrastructures have allowed them to work from home since the start of global lockdowns. I feel fortunate to be a part of this group as I have been working from home since March and I hardly felt the processes I do impeded by this ‘new normal’. If anything, I found myself enjoying writing in the amount of time I would have spent commuting each day. Many of my friends started cooking or baking. I also found myself growing my collection of books at a faster speed than it was before the pandemic. My post-rationalising self says I have simply reallocated my coffee budget to books.

Some lockdowns have eased but according to The Economist, only 50% of workers in five large European countries, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France are spending every day in the office. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that second waves are experienced in many countries, causing fear and discourage full return to the office. Another is that, even with effort in making the office a safe place to work, some offices are structurally not made for working with social distancing requirements. Skyscrapers in London have lifts that are not optimised for social distancing rules so that hundreds to thousands of employees can get to their desks at specific times.

While it is uncertain whether the work from home life is going to be sustained after the pandemic, I think it is interesting to ponder about arguments for and against a full working from home arrangements.

In the following section, I write some pros, cons and ‘in-betweens’ or I would say, implications that have yet to be determined.

  • Happiness and well-being boost. How many of home workers do you know have learned a new skill, like baking, cooking, or gardening? How many parents get to know their kids and spouses better? On a personal note, I do not miss the busy daily commute and it appears I am one of many commuters who feel the same.
  • Happiness boost turned to higher productivity. When workers are happier, it is easy to imagine they are more productive. There are many reports of having to hold less number of meetings and having more work completed while working from home.
  • Household savings increase due to the non-commute and less spending on more expensive lunches, coffee, and the frequency of retail shopping.
  • When we hear of productivity boost news, this is potentially biased as this is usually based on self-reporting. Furthermore, many employees may have improved their performance for fear of being let go by their company. Fear is hardly happiness-inducing.
  • Only a fraction roles could be plausibly completed from home. It varies from country to country. It is probably more on average in modern societies where online transactions are more common.
  • Work hours become blurry. Some workers have found themselves working longer hours on average and more likely to send emails after work hours when working from home.
  • Does working from home impede productivity and innovation? I found it interesting that Bursts of Inspiration Come From Bursts of Communication. This means that short and rapid communication is better for innovation when compared with long and constant communication, according to a study from from Carnegie Mellon and Northeastern University in 2017.
  • Firms have had to quickly set up processes to coordinate suppliers and clients in a fully working from home set-up. These processes have yet to be tested for robustness and business continuity.
  • Employment laws were made under the assumption that most workers are in the office. For example, who should pay for a worker’s internet connection or heating or working environment (tables, chairs and equipment)? Who is liable for a safe working environment when people work from home?
  • How do we ‘evidence’ performance or build reputation when working from home? Most of us are used to a culture where being physically present at work improves your reputation and increases your social capital. Also, negotiating for your pay rise, promotion, or for improving your work conditions on video seems awkward.

As the pandemic has upended this office ‘equilibrium’ and forced the world to rethink how much risk there is to their economies, there is certainly a debate to be had about returning to office versus the work-from-home setup. I watch this space along with many workers whose working lives are up to be re-wired.

My article takes inspiration from The Economist article, “The Future of the Office

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