The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing most of us to work from home. Here we consider the pros and cons of working remotely.
Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world, large numbers of employees were already asking themselves why they couldn’t work from home. Now, as tens of millions of people suddenly find themselves forced to work remotely, the question has gained new urgency.
The virus will eventually subside, but it is likely that employees will continue to work in this way for a long time. If companies can make a success of remote working, they may be more likely to continue the practice even after the pandemic abates. Here, we have a look at some of the pros and cons of remote working for employers and employees.
Pros: Advantages and Opportunities
During the pandemic, remote working is allowing people to continue to work and companies to continue to function. Now, as in normal times, the main advantage of working from home is the flexibility it provides – for both employers and employees.
Numerous studies have shown that teleworking can increase both productivity and job satisfaction, with employees reporting an increased ability to focus amid fewer distractions. For introverts and others who prefer solitude, working from home can be a godsend. A 2014 study in China found a 13 per cent increase in performance from employees working at home.
Saving everyone money
Working from home can also save everyone money. While employees spend less on commuting (along with fewer expensive takeaway lunches and coffees), and may save money on child care by being more flexible, employers can also save money. Fewer people in the office means that physical offices can be smaller, saving money on rent. For some businesses, it might be possible to dispense with permanent office space altogether.
Businesses can also benefit from being able to draw on a larger pool of potential employees. It is easier to recruit from other countries if staff can work from anywhere. This also reduces the need for managing visas and work permits, and paying relocation expenses for overseas hires.
Studies have shown that many employees value flexibility above higher earnings, with a 2017 study showing that employees in the US valued the ability to work from home at equal to 8 per cent of their wages. On top of this, giving employees the ability to control their own schedule and work conditions has been demonstrated to lead to greater job satisfaction and commitment, and lower turnover, all of which saves employers both time and money.
Cons: Disadvantages and Risks
While there are a lot of pros to remote working, there are also a number of disadvantages, and proper management of these downsides is crucial to its success, for both businesses and employees.
People need people
One major downside is the lack of human interaction when working remotely – some studies have shown that, over time, employees can feel socially and professionally isolated. To manage this, companies can require or encourage regular in-office meetings or get-togethers. During the pandemic, while people are forced to work from home, many managers have instituted regular ‘social’ meetings – when teams engage in quizzes, sing-alongs, games, shared online meals or other non-work activities.
Some industries also benefit from the regular, informal knowledge sharing that can come from people being able to drop in with co-workers to chat and share ideas on the spur of the moment. Studies have also indicated that people who work from home may also be less confident in their career than in-office employees. This may come from feeling ‘out of the loop’ and being disengaged from day-to-day decisions.
In companies where everyone works from home, this may not be as big an issue, but frequent meetings may be required to keep everyone feeling engaged and to promote interaction.
Keeping up productivity
Companies also need to develop ways to monitor workers without becoming too intrusive. While some have used draconian measures, such as accessing employee webcams to make sure they are working, for this to work in the long term, less intrusive methods will be needed. Companies may consider investing in specialised training sessions to help workers to maintain productivity at home and develop healthy practices, such as getting some exercise each day.
One practical drawback to remote working is the issue of security. As companies and individual turn in huge numbers to videoconferencing platforms, security experts warn these are not necessarily safe. Zoom, in particular, has been criticised for a number of privacy issues, including sending user data to Facebook, lack of end-to-end encryption, and a flaw which left some users vulnerable to having their webcams and microphones hijacked.
While Zoom is working to get a handle on these problems, companies always need to make sure that both employees and proprietary information is secure at all times. In the future, this may mean using only company-owned and encrypted computers for work, although this may reduce flexibility.
Work/home life balance
One major issue for employees working remotely is the blurring of work life and home life that can occur when there is no physical separation between work time and leisure time. Telecommuters tend to work longer hours than in-office workers, and may have trouble switching off, especially if they do not have a dedicated home office. And while it’s tempting to think about how nice it would be to work from a tropical beach, it may be more tempting to enjoy the beach without working.
Companies can help by having clear policies on when employees should and should not answer emails or calls. While this may be difficult when staff are spread across different time zones, clear policies would help employees feel more confident in switching off. For workers, having a dedicated workspace and a regular work pattern will also help draw a dividing line between work and home.
Many companies and employees are feeling their way through remote working, developing new policies and protocols as they go. But everyone will benefit from taking a longer view, putting in place robust procedures now to make remote working easier in the future. After all, working from home could be our new normal.
17th April 2020