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The unique conditions of the pandemic have accelerated a shift towards the adoption of working from home. Amid concerns about the transmission risk in workplaces and on public transport, the Government enforced work-from-home orders. Now that these rules have been lifted, many workplaces are contending with whether to make flexible work a more permanent part of their policy.
As a business owner, I have grappled with this question myself. While I can certainly see that working from home has its benefits both for employees and employers, it also has its pitfalls. So, is the novelty of working from home wearing off? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Pros for employees
The ability to work from home gives employees more flexibility and greater control over their time. The hope is that this enables a better balance between work, family, study, caring for elderly parents, exercise and other commitments.
Many employees believe they are able to get more work done at home by avoiding the commute to the office and limiting other distractions in the workplace. By improving our capacity to stay on top of our work it can improve employee satisfaction and reduce stress.
Pros for employers
In many cases, working from home may prove to be just as productive, if not more so, than working from the office. Removing the commute from the workday, reducing in-person meetings and limiting the distractions that can arise in the workplace can be more efficient and save time. Working from a comfortable and familiar setting can also be a boost to productivity.
For employees who enjoy working from home, having this option can contribute to higher employee satisfaction and performance. It can also help attract and retain great talent.
With staff working from home some or all of the time, overheads on office space, electricity, water, internet, phone bills and more will come down. This can make a significant difference to a business’ bottom line.
Cons for employees
Working from home blurs the lines between your home and work life. Without the mental separation between the two it can be hard to switch off from work at the end of the day or gear up for work at the beginning of the day.
Not everyone has an ideal working from home set up. In fact, most of us are unlikely to have a dedicated home office in our home. That means we’re working from the dining room table, the couch, a small desk in the corner or some other undesirable set up. This can affect productivity and comfort.
Many employees enjoy the social aspects of working in an office with colleagues. Working from home means you’re spending a lot of time on your own which can be isolating and boring. While no doubt most of us will have plenty of communication with colleagues via Zoom, email, the phone or platforms like Slack, for some it can be a poor substitute for spending time together face-to-face.
The lack of face-to-face time can also make it more difficult for employees to build a relationship or make an impression with the right people in the business. This can make it more difficult when seeking a promotion or seeking buy-in on an idea or project.
Cons for employers
From a work health and safety point of view, the added complexity of managing dozens, hundreds or even thousands of remote ‘workplaces’ within the one organisation is likely to take a toll. Every employee’s home will have to be a safe workplace which means employers are responsible for ensuring employees have the right lighting, secure IT setup, screen, chair and desk setup. That can be expensive and in some cases near impossible to achieve without a dedicated office space in the home.
Building and maintaining culture remotely is difficult. Even if your team engages regularly over Zoom or other communication platforms, virtual communications doesn’t always create the ideal conditions for employees to create friendships or bond as a team. Mentoring and training of junior staff can also become more difficult. Without a strong team culture, silos may be created in the business. This can cause miscommunication and misunderstandings.
So, what does the future hold for working from home? I don’t believe we’re seeing a permanent shift away from working in the office. Instead, I think working from home more than two days a week will be less appealing for both employees and employers. Once the novelty wears off and the more practical challenges emerge, we’re likely to see many businesses strike a balance where employees return to the office for the majority of the time and work from home only one or two days a week. Other businesses will return to working from the office full-time. As we emerge out of the pandemic, I believe only the minority of businesses will continue to embrace working from home with the same vigour as during the pandemic.