As many people around the world adjust to the new reality of working from home it is useful to weigh up the pros and cons. Let’s not forget that many of our colleagues have to be on-site at work particularly in the port, logistics and transport sectors to ensure that vital operations continue. They have gone to work every day during COVID-19 and we should applaud their dedication.
Although COVID-19 has accelerated the process, it appears that the migration to home working is well underway, particularly in the US according to a new study by Nicholas Bloom, a Professor of Economics in Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences.
Professor Bloom’s research found that currently 42 percent of the US labour force are now working from home full-time, due to COVID-19 and also workers losing their office-based jobs during the pandemic.
In an interview in Stanford News he said his study also found that work-from-home employees now account for more than two-thirds of US economic activity.
Incredibly, Professor Bloom said that in the US currently almost twice as many employees are working from home rather than in a workplace.
IBM’s Institute for Business Value had similar findings when it conducted a wide-ranging study earlier this year when it polled more than 25,000 American adults. The survey aimed to understand how COVID-19 affected general public views on a number of issues, including retail spending, transportation, future attendance at events in large venues, and returning to work.
One of the key findings was the shift to operating as a largely remote workforce which led to nearly 40 percent of respondents saying they would like the option to continue working from home when normal routines resume.
75 percent of respondents said they would like to continue to work remotely on an occasional basis, while 54 percent would like to work away from the office full time.
So, this is the trend in the US but what is the reality of working from home, we look at the good and the bad side of the new phenomena affecting millions of people worldwide.
For staff who have an office job and are able to work from a computer at home, there are many benefits such as avoiding the dreaded commute, packed on to trains and buses or stuck in a traffic jam.
The time you save by walking a few metres to your computer at home, means you can also be more productive and don’t have to spend time getting ready for the journey to your office.
That additional time you save by not commuting can be spent exercising, sleeping longer or having a relaxed breakfast.
The cost of travelling to and from work can also add up, paying for trains, buses or filling up your car with petrol. In most office environments staff are required to dress smartly and so a business ‘wardrobe’ is required. When working from home casual attire is ‘de rigeur’ and so no need to buy smart clothes for work.
Buying lunch particularly in central business districts can also be an expensive business, so cooking your own lunch can also save money.
While we are in the relatively early days of the work from home phenomena, it is becoming clear that there are significant changes in the way people operate in a domestic environment.
According to a study by the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the lockdown and subsequent working from home initiatives helps staff focus on what is important. The research team found that people spent 12 percent less time in large meetings and 9 percent more time interacting with customers and external partners.
HBR also noted that tasks rated as tiresome dropped from 27 to 12 percent, and tasks that can moved to co-workers fell from 41 to 27 percent.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Humans are social animals and there have been challenges for many people who are not interacting with their colleagues every day as they have done for their entire working lives.
So, what are the main drawbacks to working from home and what do people miss.
“The key challenge remains when to stop work as my day starts very early 6.00am to accommodate the early afternoon calls (Pacific time zone) to speak to Blume Global colleagues in California and it ends when our Boston office wakes up at 9.00pm,” said Mark Yong, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Blume Global.
“Being a perennial socialite, I thrive on being surrounded by people such as colleagues or customers, business partners, so practising social distancing and not even shaking hands was a bit of a challenge initially.”
One of the major challenges is being able to turn off from work, when your home is also your workplace.
Many people are saying that they are working longer hours from home, because there is no physical separation between the workplace and where they live.
If possible, try and find a dedicated area for work, separate from the rest of the house. It is however very difficult for many to achieve this, particularly in Asia.
As companies and employees evaluate the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of working from home, it seems evident that the practice is here to stay.
So, is working from home here to stay?
Mark Yong: “I think the last few months have tested and validated the ‘work from home’ scenario, not through choice, however. It will shape the way we recruit, onboard and work with people. There will be a lot more empowerment to individuals working in companies and the concept of shared desk will become more widespread. Major corporations will look at ways to reduce office space as one of the cost-effective measures and exploit technology to the fullest.”
“No matter how efficient working from home can bring, it is important to ensure we do not lose sight of the need to interact with colleagues, customers and stakeholders in person from time to time,” he concluded.
In many developed economies mitigating the risk of the daily commute and mixing with colleagues in an office environment has increased the risks of exposure to COVID-19. The surveys by Stanford and IBM show that currently a large proportion of people questioned have positive experiences of working from home, mostly as a way of reducing the risk of catching the coronavirus. There are also indications that many workers are realising the financial and lifestyle benefits of working from home.
It will be interesting to see that when normal routines resume, whether the same groups are as positive and whether they will miss the daily human interaction essential to private and business life.