Work-From-Home 2022: The Great Debate

General

We’re already 3 years into the pandemic and working from home has seemed to become the norm in many countries around the world. Let us objectively compare the pros and the cons of this new phenomenon and draw some conclusions.

Pros

1. Economical dress code

With the rise of virtual meetings, many companies have opted to cancel overseas in-person meetings and conduct online ones instead. On camera, one can dress less formally for virtual business calls, reducing the need for wardrobe upkeep – both for men and women.

2. Increased business performance

For businesses not purely running on physical operations, a remote working strategy allows an organisation to extend their recruitment efforts globally, allowing top talents from around the world to bring their diverse and experience to drive business performance.

Organisations with processes that are defined and streamlined, have increased digital collaboration, faster sharing of information, and a focus on shared goals which can yield an unprecedented level of productivity in digital work environments with digital tools.

This is especially true for companies digitalising traditional time-consuming processes, as their time savings and productivity boost can be astounding.

3. Democratic discussions, improved inclusivity

The digital work environment removes barriers and hierarchies that exist in traditional work environments and in meetings. Our online communication tools “allow real-time, cross-functional, and cross-hierarchical communication that is location and hierarchy-agnostic.” If done right, information, feedback, and ideas can flow seamlessly and may increase innovation.

4. Saves time, money and allows location independence

Commuting costs are significant, even using modes of public transportation. Having your more options for food choices allows one to save money and arguably, stay healthier.

With remote work-from-home, workers can have location independence and not needing to consider or turn down offices that are hard to reach and involving a long commute time.

5. Customisable home office

Most companies have rules and policies regarding the workplace. For example, not every employer would allow you to put an aquarium on your desk! When working from home, one has the privilege of customising their workspace. They can build an ergonomic workspace, have a custom desk set-up and include various tools, along with their own flexible space and boundaries.

6. More time with loved ones

The time and energy saved from commuting allows remote workers to spend more time with their loved ones at home. Especially for parents with children, this has generally allowed them to watch them grow while being more involved in their day-to-day activities.

Cons

1. “Proximity Bias” / Out of sight, out of mind

This means that "the people who choose to return to offices will get ahead, while those who stay home will fall behind." The return-to-office push could further exacerbate workplace inequalities like underrepresentation of some people, among other common unsolved issues.

In fact, just being seen in the office can affect performance evaluations, promotions and job security, research from professors at the University of California, Davis and North Carolina University has found.

2. Communication impacted (bandwidth, non-verbal cues)

Virtual meeting apps like Zoom and Teams have been the mainstay for many companies. However, with large group meetings, the number of participants may affect the bandwidth of the connection and the amount of information being shared at anyone point in time. One is also unlikely to hear anything when 2 people speak over each other.

Moreover, smaller video thumbnails, the angle, position and quality of the camera and connection mean less non-verbal cues get communicated in real-time. It affects how you are perceived subconsciously, which includes things like acceptance, rejection, agreement, and disagreement.

3. Loneliness and weakened workplace ties

We know that humans are social beings by nature. Conversing online may not be the best way to socialise and build workplace ties. Studies have shown that remote working causes people to feel lonely and have weakened workplace ties.

There are organisations trying to create social opportunities through virtual lunches, engagement events, and other initiatives, but it turns out those events are not very popular. Physical face-to-face interaction may be the primary way to increase social bonding and belonging.

4. Deterioration of mental and physical health, and higher stress

From sedentary lifestyles to a lack of boundaries, there are many reasons that could contribute to a deterioration of mental and physical health, including lack of social interaction and support. Depending also on a number of factors, some remote workers feel more stressed due to longer working hours, intensified pace of work, frequent miscommunication, the level of autonomy at work, and the blurring of private/personal time leading to neglect of household chores, etc.

5. More meetings

Working remotely generally results in more virtual meetings to keep each other updated, as evidenced by Microsoft’s research on their users. A 2.5X increase was observed from Feb 2020 to Feb 2021!

6. Inconducive home office & increased interruptions

There are a thousand things that could interrupt: a barking dog, a delivery, a family member who forgot that you are working, your kids, your mobile device and/or the television.

“Hello? Can you hear me?” “I think you’re on mute!” “Your connection is really unstable…”

From deafening construction and airplane noises to spotty Wi-Fi from rental apartments, there are plenty of problems that may hinder your ability to complete your tasks on time.

7. Less visibility and accountability

There has been an increasing number of stories of work-from-home where workers treat these as leave/vacation days, taking time off to travel long distances without first informing their colleagues or managers. In other scenarios, managers are told that because of employees’ personal activities (e.g. yoga classes), they are unable to attend certain meetings during working hours.

Ultimately, this is still subjective to the each company, industry, and services.

8. Loss of “professionalism”

Generally, the pandemic has brought about lower levels (quality) of customer service.

“I think working from home has tipped the balance towards chaos,” one says, adding it was possible people were overwhelmed and had been left to cope alone.

For those who have no choices or no ability to outsource caretaking duties, they do spillover into their working environment and may cause disturbances.

9. Cybersecurity risks

Most home networks are not well equipped against targeted attacks, and with a large majority of employees working from home during the pandemic, their computers could be exposed to cybersecurity risks. In just 2021 alone, there were at least 10 large-scale ransomware attacks.

"Having the human connection helps for easier collaboration, and also [to] manage workload and stress."
Leon Yeo, Co-Founder, Doxa

Up for Debate

Work-life balance or Work-life integration?

Some sources say that employees enjoy better work life balance while working from home. They have turned commuting time into family or reading time, and now have time for their own hobbies and pursuits from the flexibility.

However, with flexibility comes the blurring of the traditional work-life balance. Without a defined structure and boundaries, there will be ripple effects on working hours, career progression, over- or under-compensation for work (not) done.

“...if you don’t set boundaries, other people will set them for you.”

On the other hand, a growing group of people are starting to adopt a different approach – work-life integration. This perspective sees a blended work and personal life, where there are no clear boundaries and work has become integrated into their personal lifestyle.

Productivity

Note: Productivity is hard to define!

Reducing commute times and a more flexible lifestyle generally equates to a more productive environment, where raw output is increased.

But with blurring boundaries, people are working longer hours, and when divided by the time spent, seems to actually decrease productivity!

“A study of 10,000 skilled professionals at a large Asian tech company found that the productivity of those working from home fell by up to a fifth: Many were working longer hours, but output fell, partly because they were just having more meetings.” The same was true for UK at the start of the pandemic.

For some, juggling different time zones also meant they were working longer hours and producing less productive work.

Depending on the role, some workers may be performing on-the-ground customer support. With a forced global shift to remote working, their role has become harder, as they spend much more time problem solving with individuals who are not digitally savvy, possibly even affecting their KPIs.

Fewer sick days

Common wisdom: letting employees work from home keeps them safe from all sorts of viruses and communicable diseases, resulting in fewer sick days and most likely, higher productivity.

However, some employees who are on sick leave are sometimes expected to be online since they cannot infect others. This is harmful as they do not get to take the time off needed to rest and recover.

Conclusion

It is likely that the cons of Work-From-Home outweighs the pros, but this does not mean that the pros are irrelevant!

As what our co-founder Leon mentioned in an interview, “having the human connection helps for easier collaboration, and also [to] manage workload and stress.”

At Doxa, there is no one-size-fit-all therefore we provide our employees with a hybrid working environment to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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