Updated: Mar 31
Have you ever dreamed of sleeping for just another 10 minutes when the alarm goes off? What about avoiding the morning and afternoon traffic without sacrificing your own time? Maybe more family time is your priority? What was once a dream in a pre-COVID-19 world may become the new norm with the rise of work from home (WFH) directives. Facebook and Twitter have already announced plans that most employees would be able to WFH permanently. Even stubborn industries such as banks, like Barclays and Morgan Stanley, are slowly implementing similar policies.
It has been several months since COVID-19 completely changed our way of living. In this new, unfamiliar world, people’s experiences with the Great WFH Experiment has been a pleasant surprise. According to an Upwork survey, 56% of HRs think it has gone better than expected, and one-third said productivity has increased (less than a third said it decreased). 62% plan to offer more remote work going forward.
There are many benefits and challenges in shifting towards WFH. We will enjoy fewer meetings, less time wasted commuting, and even the freedom for mid-day exercise. However, we might experience technical issues, distractions at home, ineffective communication, and less contact with other team members. Moreover, many find that they are working longer hours and having trouble separating work and personal life. As the pandemic continues changing our work style drastically, here are some key points we may anticipate moving forward:
WFH gives employees permanent flexibility in terms of when and where they want to work. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5 million people were already working from home for at least half of the time. Since then, according to research from Salesforce, there has been a 1500% increase in WFH employees. They are productive and communicative, which was thought to be previously impossible. However, this does not mean that employees will never leave home again. We can expect employees may visit the office for some in-person events. Some workplaces are also not structured in a way conducive to WFH. Nonetheless, it is expected that the 9-to-5 working style will become a thing of the past.
Virtual Meeting Gains Popularity
We have seen virtual meetings have become more popular. Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms are picking up. However, virtual meetings may not be the only thing on the uptick; anticipate replacing more of your meetings with emails and instant messages, as they are likely to be faster and more efficient. Virtual lunches and happy hours via video conference may be a good idea to build rapport and camaraderie, increasing employee satisfaction.
Money Saving with Reduced Payrolls
For corporates, despite the investments in technology to ease the process of working at home, WFH is largely cost saving. There is reduced real estate cost since big offices and conference rooms are no longer required. There may also be reduced payroll: when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s remote policy, he mentioned that those employees who leave Silicon Valley would have to say goodbye to their Silicon Valley salary.
Privacy Concern Leads to New Forms of Leadership
A growing concern is that the imperfect information problem may become exacerbated due to WFH policies. Supervisors may have no idea whether the employees are working at home or not. This was a concern even when employees worked on site, and supervisors may feel a temptation to monitor the employees. Technologies are in place to do that: keystroke monitoring and screen analyzing when sharing on Zoom already exist. However, by doing that, employees may feel their privacy is being violated, and hence leave the firm. Therefore, a new form of leadership is required in the organization, a form that empowers and energizes employees through a common mission instead of merely measuring their working hours. Leadership must have a new focus on outcomes, instead of time spent, as a metric for measuring performance.
The Hard Truth for Minority Groups
Working from home is far easier for knowledge workers and higher earners. Minority groups such as Black and Hispanic/Latino workers are disproportionately left out of remote opportunities. Women will also face greater pressure during the WFH period. The gender pay gap among full-time remote workers has widened over the last six years, according to Owl Labs. And during the pandemic, women have continued to shoulder a greater portion of “invisible labor” like childcare, housekeeping, and shopping. WFH policies are not available equally to all labor, and this may be an issue which garners more attention going forward.
Can WFH become the new future or it is just a temporary phenomenon? Are the leaders we have currently up to the game of empowering employees instead of surveilling? Does the ability to WFH become the new social status to distinguish different working classes? Only time will tell if WFH will have a lasting impact on corporate and employee structure.