Remote Work (Teleworking): The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The COVID pandemic started a burst in popularity for remote work, mainly as a result of the lockdowns implemented across the globe. For some, the idea was completely new and for others, it was part of everyday life, but it did not always have a happy ending.
About 37% of jobs could allow for remote work, and this caused many losses for the 63% who could not work remotely during the lockdowns, from restaurants to construction workers, and this had its impact on business and the economy.
While many companies enjoy the reduced costs of having their employees work from home it also had its fair share of negativity, especially when it came to the productivity of employees. First, though, we need to take into account that during the lockdowns, parents also had to deal with children at home, homeschooling and taking care of the elderly (who were living at home) so the conditions were not exactly ideal, but that is the benchmark that employers are now using to understand or establish if remote work is the future.
Looking at the good, we can see the reduced impact on the environment as many people did not have to commute to work, companies enjoyed lower utility bills, and in some cases even downsized their office space. Many companies introduced part-time employment, shortly after the government subsidies stopped, and this took us to the bad.
With a reduction in working hours per week, we also saw reductions in salaries, and employees complaining about the increase in their household utility bills. Another bad aspect of remote working was that many managers became almost obsolete as they could not monitor employees as effectively while they were working at home. Some companies used monitoring software or work computers and laptops, which added an additional cost to companies but was not effective in all jobs. It wasn’t just the reduction in working hours offered to employees though, it was also the reduction in productivity. This could be attributed to the lack of resources or the lack of a manager being on top of employees all day following up on work that needed to be delivered, although this could have been done with an email.
We saw a lot of ugly during the pandemic, with people abusing the freedom of working from home. People wake up later, working in their pyjamas, having kids to nag them, taking care of household errands and so much more. Most people were just not as productive as there were when they went into the office each day. Many took advantage of this and basically did no work, or very little and this is where the employers started changing their tune towards remote work. We won’t mention the fake COVID victims, who could not work because they got COVID. (you know who I am talking about)
It should be noted that remote work is not for everyone. We identified that not all jobs can offer remote work, but what about the people doing remote work? Working remotely requires a lot of discipline, it has a huge impact on your psychological health and can be taxing for some to distinguish between work time and home time. We never really had the time to train our staff to work remotely because the pandemic hit so fast, we thought it would last 3 weeks and it lasted almost 2 years, so there was no time to plan, and yet, we believe it won't happen again, in our lifetimes, so it is worth the expense of planning for it now?
We have to see many of the larger corporations demanding that employees return to normal work, with some offering a hybrid option and some offering an ultimatum of coming back to work or staying home without a job.
Is there a future for remote work, post-COVID? If you look at the advantages and disadvantages, the advantages outshine the disadvantages, with a positive impact on the environment, lower costs for the employer, more flexibility for the employee, and the list goes on. The major headache on the disadvantage list is productivity and trust.
We have seen many companies adapt with the introduction of flexi-hours, allowing employees to come in at later times, as long as they complete their 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week, all is good. Is this the future of employment?
Just like there is no magic pill to cure all ails, there is no magic formula for employment. Some employers will prefer the traditional working environment, while others will try to modernize the environment. The solution is to find the best option to maximize productivity and minimize cost, be it in remote work, hybrid work, or flexi-hours. Understanding the needs of our employees, be this their desire to work from home, or the need for training and support to work from home. Motivating them to deliver while still remembering they are human. Perhaps the best solution is still being developed, but whatever the solution is, we need to maximize the good, fix the bad and remove the ugly.