Covid-19 has resulted in a surge in remote employees, who have adapted to the new normal of being home all day, every day. But like everything else in the world, there are both advantages and disadvantages of working from home.
For instance, you no longer have distracting background banter to disrupt your focus. Ironically, you start to miss these very noisy moments in remote working. After all, you’re now having to contend with engaging with your colleagues and managers completely online.
While working from home offers a plethora of advantages such as saving on commute time, superior work-life balance, higher savings, better health, and lifestyle, being home all day, every day can give you home fatigue.
If the home should reboot your system, then will working from home be a boon or a bane?
In this post, we’ll explore the new age of work from home and unravel the advantages and the disadvantages it poses.
1. Advantages of work-from-home
1.1 Time optimization
High performers and underperformers have one thing in common- the same 24 hours. What you make of these is what determines your success.
Since the time to commute and getting ready is avoided, you can focus on optimizing the time to be spent on essential aspects like:
Having a todo list to start with
A To-do list is the first step towards staying organized, and this, in turn, gives clarity on what needs to be accomplished in a day.
Prioritizing your tasks
Once you have a TODO list, you must assign high and low precedence to know what to accomplish today. Analyzing your tasks yields the most important tasks thereby helps you focus and orient your work in the required direction.
According to the Pareto Principle– 80% of your result is derived from 20% of your work.
Have a structured day
Take stock of your living arrangements and plan out meal-times and breaks such that you can take time to recharge without the guilt of piling up work.
Once your time is optimized, we shall move on to lowering the costs, because as we all know, time and money go hand in hand.
1.2. Lesser costs
Working from home can save your business from more cost overheads than actual office workers. Studies reveal that the average savings on real estate due to work from home can be as much as USD10,000 a year, with the distribution of savings in the following areas;
1. Rents for offices
2. Cleaning services
3. Coffee machine/ Canteens
5. Shuttle services for those employees dependent on office transportation.
It is also environmentally friendly, as you save on energy bills associated with the upkeep of office buildings and acts as a benefit of working remotely for employers. Remote working especially helps as you no longer have to worry about printing documents that risk being misplaced or getting lost in paperwork. Instead, you can upload them for convenience in central cloud storage for the designated employees to access as and when required.
While lowering costs is one of the many benefits of working from home to both employers and employees, there are employee empowering aspects, which we’ll explore next.
1.3. Greater autonomy
Remote work hinges on how transparent, communicative and trustworthy your remote workers are. And to benefit the remote working for employers, businesses have to be more deliberate in ensuring these pillars go both-ways.
The increased autonomy means that workers have a degree of freedom in getting work done. Remote workers feel they have the freedom to do their work as they deem fit. They are the decision-makers and are accountable for the work delegated. Managers need to step in only when they are
1. Delegating new tasks
2. Guiding staff in complex tasks
3. Reviewing progress
4. Giving Feedback or
5. Addressing grievances and resolving workplace conflict.
This sense of empowerment and accountability motivates employees to succeed and leads to higher job satisfaction and productivity.
1.4. Increased productivity
A recent survey shows a 47% shot in productivity when working from home. It further goes to say that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the most useful days, while Friday happens to be notorious for giving the least output in the week.
The credit for bringing a remote workforce together goes to advanced communication tools. So long as there’s steady internet connectivity, workers can get into calls to discuss progress, review work together, and pool in their knowledge and skills to help each other out. And all this, without unscheduled group huddles, arduous commutes, or office distractions. The focus is entirely on getting the work done, thus increasing productivity.
The satisfaction of getting work done right( and on time) contributes to consistent productivity. When you feel happy, your mind is better at making decisions. This is precisely what Shawn Achor, a TED speaker, and acclaimed Harvard Psychologist reaffirm, i.e. happiness is the secret to better work.
A recent study from Oxford University also reveals that a right state of mind increased employee productivity by 13%.
1.5. Improved health
“The body manifests what the mind harbors,” goes the adage.
Work from home can bring in a sense of isolation as work-life integration makes a worker stretch thinly. Employee behavior seeks constant approval/information, inclusion, and involvement. This doubles as they seem farther away in times. When either of these aspects is not met, there are chances that employees get disoriented.
With the help of technology and tools, employees can be involved in the decision-making process and included in the company’s activities they feel valued. This increases their overall morale and mental wellbeing.
Also, because work from home offers flexibility, employees can narrow down their productivity window and focus better on completing the work. Health gets better as there is minimal exposure to pollutants and there is no stress of long commutes.
Forbes’s study shows an improvement in employees’ mental health working remotely. Remote workers are able to attend to the physical and psychological needs of their loved ones and themselves, thus ensuring they can maintain their health. In other words, they are less likely to fall sick.
1.6. Customizable work environment
A survey says that low back pain has increased by 55%. This is a challenge employees can combat by personalizing their space and seating adjustments. For example, they can choose the right chairs and work desks, thus creating a personalized and ergonomic work environment. This is a plus for employees with disabilities because they can make unique accessibility and mobility arrangements to suit their needs.
If you’re staying by yourself, it’s easier to rearrange your workspace in a way to provide positive stimulus. However, if you’re sharing living space with family, friends, or housemates, be mindful of your environment and living arrangements while setting up an office space.
1.7. Increased Communication
Remote work makes way for effective communication. Be it to clarify, inform, or collaborate. Employees are more deliberate over how often, when, and to whom they communicate so that everybody is on the same page, and work stays on track.
Real-time communication, mainly via video chats and on virtual conference platforms, establishes clarity. Since the employees are in conducive working environments- work goes smoothly. Participants are well informed about their duties and the day’s schedule to avoid unnecessary delays or distractions. Businesses today want to make the most of the productivity and get the best of the situation. Instructions such as
1. What to do? – specify the issue
2. By when does it need to be done? Specify the date & time
3. Who or how to accomplish it.
Better instructions reinforce the communication process and gets the work done.
Now that we have seen the advantages, it is time to explore the downside of work from home too:
2. Disadvantages of work from home
2.1. Unforeseen tech snags
We have all had days where technology has refused to cooperate with us. But it is the only means to keep us in touch with the rest of the world, which means being adequately prepared with updates on hand.
Virtually connecting with teams is one of the crucial aspects of working from home. Be it loading times and transmission issues like tech snags, it can be disruptive. Despite having useful communication tools such as Skype, Slack, etc. If the internet does not cooperate, the whole gamut of tools proves unworthy.
Technical issues interrupt the flow of information and result in delays in conveying updates. Such interruptions drive down the overall efficiency.
2.2. Absence of social cues
Studies have shown that more than 70% of communication is non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes:
1. Body language – the posture in which one sits or stands or even looks could communicate like authority or lethargy, etc
2. Facial expressions– happy, sad, or skeptical are some of it could go beyond words.
3. Voice or tone of speech– a change in the tone of voice can suggest agreement or disagreement. Sense when to talk or pause and let the others have a turn so as to avoid overriding a speaker.
All of which is missed over a chat or an email.
The human brain can process a visual such as a photo or a video 60,000 times better than just words.
There is a high scope for misinterpreting ideas. Some reasons for missing social cues could be
1. Cultural differences
Parameters like behavior and personality differences in body language may lead to misinterpretations. For example- eye contact, an essential aspect of communication, can be considered disrespectful in some cultures.
2. Unstable connectivity
Choppy internet and power outages can result in lags, or people dropping out of virtual meetings mid-way, which means having to reiterate points to catch them up.
3. Language barriers/ accent issues
Even when people converse in the same language, dialect variations play a crucial role in the sentence structure and communicating the same meaning. The use of simple language with visual connections can enhance the exchange of ideas.
Social cues help you build better coworker bonds as you are sensitive to your colleagues’ expressions.
2.3. Require greater Self-discipline
Being at home requires you to cultivate a mindset for it because you’re using a single calendar for professional and personal commitments. Self-discipline is necessary to deliver to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
You need to apply and set self-management principles to get the best of both. When an employee fails to cultivate a structured routine, they will end up mismanaging time, leading to burnout. Employees who don’t manage professional time end up compensating for it with their time.
Failing to do so puts you at risk of turning into a workaholic trying to complete work within promised deadlines. You become more irritable due to the time-pressure and inability to zone out from work to recharge. As a result, your performance at work suffers over time. You may make it on time to your scrum call the next day, but your personal need to recharge and remain well-rested goes unattended.
Self-disciplined means scheduling your day and the working hours uniformly with limited and timed breaks to balance work and life. As you are responsible for your entire day, you can take charge by setting a start and end time and respect it with no distractions. Focus on getting the job done.
Self-discipline applies to managers just as much as it does to their remote teams. It’s down to the organization to formalize and document both work timings and sufficient break times. It helps to reconfirm availability for voice or video calls through a time zone and calendar application. This way, you’re aware of the times they are most and least likely to be available and will not be interrupting them.
Involve your team in the process of creating workweek schedules and convey your expectations regarding online visibility, turnaround times(TAT), and deliverables. These measures enable the workforce to be mindful of their productivity while dedicating sufficient time for personal needs.
2.4. Work overloads
Work overload can be overwhelming and create tremendous stress, especially in a work environment that sees high employee turnover, layoffs, or market uncertainties. The work doubles with a lesser workforce, leading to some, or all members being stretched thin.
Employee burnout is more likely in circumstances where these are overloaded with the expectation that it won’t compromise their performance or are unable to prioritize work. In earning the ideal employee’s title, one becomes stressed and suffers a series of ailments.
2.5 Siloed Teamwork
Teamwork calls for cohesive efforts from all individuals of a team or across teams. While there is heightened interaction in a physical setup, chances are employees get disconnected in a remote work setup. Despite having a common communication platform, the need to communicate and collaborate is lost. This gives a feeling that only their team is burdened with work while the rest of the company is not.
Even inside a team, there are chances that certain employees may feel isolated. Such a thing is very common in larger organizations, where due to a clash of ideas or difference in opinion, a barrier may form.
Managers and leaders must harness Inter team collaborations and communications to overcome such barriers inside an organization.
3. The Key Takeaways of Working Remotely
In the last two decades, the start-up bubble has popularized flexible remote arrangements. Today, there are multiple advantages to working from home. Companies today tap into a global talent base without inviting the added expense of relocation. The benefits of working remotely for employers include easier hiring, higher resource retention, better productivity all at a lesser cost.
With the proliferation of communication tools, engaging with employees from anywhere in the world is not only possible but has resulted in cost-effectiveness. The employee too experiences the comfort of being where they work best while being absorbed into a company that supports and invests in their growth.
To conclude, working from home, much like every workplace arrangement, has an upside and downside. Paying attention to the cues can help you stay competent, on-track and productive. All this, while capitalizing on the advantage of being in a comfortable work environment.
Good Luck and happy working from home!