In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, business operations worldwide are shifting to a more socially-distanced and remote working model, with work from home changing from a luxury to a means of necessity. As a result, many workers, particularly white-collar workers, have shifted to working from home. A move that has now, almost a year later, become a way of life.
For many businesses, this new operational standard of work from home, sometimes called telecommuting, is changing the way they run their business. For many organizations and industries, these changes are expected to last long after the COVID-19 is behind us.
Today, we’ll be discussing the implications for both businesses and employees when making the more permanent shift to work from home and how this change in the work environment has far-reaching, yet mostly unknown, impacts on our overall society.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
How Work from Home is Changing Business Operations
The abrupt move to work from home, while spawned by the mandatory social distancing and stay home orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, has shifted how businesses interact with their clients, customers, and employees.
Below are a few examples of how it has impacted day to day business operations:
As we now enter almost a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and preventative measures, work output and productivity expectations are moving further towards pre-pandemic levels, despite many offices working entirely from home.
Many businesses report that after a short transition period, during the initial phases of work from home in March 2020, productivity while employees have been working from home has maintained pre-COVID levels and in some cases, even increased. These reports go to show that employees are still maximizing productivity even while they work from home.
According to a June 2020 online survey of 1,510 Canadians conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, only 13%of telecommuting workers felt that their productivity suffered due to switching to work from home structure. These statistics challenge many preconceived notions that working from home was unproductive and unfeasible for successful business models.
In that same survey, 44% of participants reported that even post-Covid, they anticipated that they would likely move forward with a mix of both going back to their workplace and continuing to work from home.
As many businesses have proven, work from home can be a more realistic option than we could have ever imagined pre-pandemic. The rise in working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown companies, large and small, the actual capabilities and implications of a workforce all working remotely.
As we continue working from home, this shift could potentially save businesses thousands and even millions of dollars in office space, technology and general business operations costs.
These savings have spurred some organizations to take the extra step to move a portion or even all of their operations online for the foreseeable future. In some cases even past the COVID-19 pandemic.
For business owners, eliminating these types of costs, especially office space, can significantly improve their profits and even help weather business uncertainty due to government restrictions and COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
How Work from Home is Affecting Employees
Not only does work from home have significant impacts on businesses, but it can also dramatically shift the way employees balance their work and home commitments.
For many employees, the shift to working from home has changed how they manage their work responsibilities, including managing teams, interacting with fellow employees, and maintaining overall productivity levels.
For many workers, the shift to working from home has allowed them to eliminate their (sometimes lengthy) commute and strike a better work/life balance. It has encouraged more focused work time rather than facing the frustration of distracting meetings that should have been emails or menial office interactions.
Sounds, great right?
Well, not exactly.
For many employees, this blurring of their work and home lives has caused significant challenges and stress, particularly for those in small spaces or large cities where the feasibility of having a dedicated office space at home is slim.
In this way, while work from home certainly has its advantages, there are also cons to it, as well.
The Blurred Line Between Work & Personal Time
One of the most challenging elements of a work from home arrangement is the blurred boundary between your work responsibilities and personal life. When your office is also your living space, it can be hard to get motivated to work and not be distracted by things in your home, whether it be kids, pets, chores, spouses etc.
On the other hand, it can also be difficult to unplug from work when there is easy access to your workspace and a need to feel productive and busy. Employees may feel guilty for not working 100% of their workday when working from home, forgetting that often their workday in a traditional office is broken up by more defined break and lunch periods, trips to the bathroom or socializing with coworkers.
With these distractions gone, it can be difficult to comprehend the new amount of time you have in your workday. Humans are not meant to work 8 hours (or more) a day without a break, but working from home can make you forget that.
The freedom of working from home can often come with feelings of guilt and thoughts such as “I’m not working enough,” “everyone is working harder than me,” and “I will lose my job if I ever take a small break in my workday.”
Others, however, experience these feelings in an entirely different way.
For some, working from home is so full of distractions that they find the times when they aren’t distracted causes them to feel overwhelmed at work, draining their energy and productivity.
Without the natural workday breaks of a traditional office setting, some remote working employees might find their attention drawn elsewhere in their home, making it difficult to stay on task and be engaged in their work. This shift in attention can significantly impact overall productivity, work satisfaction, and employee work quality over time.
As you can see, a work from home arrangement can lead to detrimental effects on people who already have difficult work-life balance tendencies. For many telecommuting employees, balancing these different competing interests is often a daily struggle and can significantly impact overall mental health and life balance.
Quite frankly, some employees miss the routine of going into the office every day!
Working from home comes with its own set of pressures and stressors. Learn the signs of being overwhelmed at work and discover ways to cope in “Overwhelmed at Work: How to Manage Stress While Working from Home.”
Managing Family Commitments
Another element that is impacted by employees shifting to work from home that has implications for both workers and businesses is the flexibility necessary to manage children, especially those learning from home or attending school online as a result of closures due to the pandemic.
For many organizations, this has forced them to take a hard look at the juggling act of managing a family and a career.
In some circumstances, this shift to work from home has created a need for both formal and informal policies on managing children and personal responsibilities during the workday.
While this certainly isn’t the case across all businesses, and it is important to note that women do continue to bear the brunt of childcare and household responsibilities, in general, employers are beginning to offer some flexibility for working parents.
These new policies might include adjusted work schedules, time during the day for employees to support their children with school or online learning and even the opportunity to continue working from home when other members of the team or company return to the office.
Difficulty Connecting with Coworkers
For many, one of the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the extended time spent alone or only interacting with your immediate household. With lockdown orders, stay at home mandates and capacity restrictions, none of us are interacting with the same amount of people on a daily basis as we were used to in the past. This is true for workspaces as well.
Without the daily interaction of an office setting, many work from home employees may experience isolation and difficulty managing their team dynamics and abilities to work collaboratively with others.
While it might be too soon to tell how these COVID-19 restrictions will impact our socializing skills, the transition back to an office work environment will likely be tough for some people after so much time at home, particularly those who are more introverted.
As we move forward beyond COVID-19, there is much to learn about person-to-person interaction in the workplace and how these interactions impact team dynamic, employee morale and overall job satisfaction.
Long Term Impacts
Another element to consider is the way the workforce as a whole will change in terms of a longer-term impact, particularly if work from home continues to be a more commonplace practice in businesses across different industries.
As employees move from one role to the next, as they transition to different departments or organizations or even when entering or exiting the workforce, working from home changes all the standard rules of adapting to change.
While this is certainly happening now throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we certainly have not seen the full life cycle of career changes and generations entering and exiting the workforce to yet predict how working from home will change our patterns and behaviours.
Some questions to consider could include:
- How will companies continue to institute or alter orientations and training and onboarding when most employees work from home?
- How will new employees and new managers engage with their colleagues when limited to virtual communication only?
- How will individuals be promoted or fired when social interaction is limited and conversations become more challenging virtually?
These are all important questions to consider as we move beyond work from home as an initial crisis phase response to the pandemic and into working from home as a business model.
Key Takeaways – Work From Home
As we move through the next stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and back to a sense of normalcy, the shift to working from home for both businesses and the workforce will continue to evolve.
In other words, what was once viewed as a perk or a luxury has now received a massive shift in perception due to such unforeseen, unprecedented global circumstances.
With work from home gradually becoming more integrated into our daily lives and companies shifting to permanent work from home status, this “perk” may become more of a requirement or mandate than a true benefit to the employee.
However, that said, while working from home certainly does have its upsides, we are only just beginning to discover the impacts the erosion of the work-life balance will have on business operations moving forward.
As we discussed above, it is clear that while the shift to working from home did not immediately result in a decrease in productivity for many businesses, how will the long term impacts change how we interact with each other and conduct business in the future?
Only time will tell.