Work from home: The New Work Culture

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"Change is all about motion,

Motion is all about uncertainty,

And we are deeply uncomfortable with uncertainty."

Elizabeth Gilbert

Uncertain times never come with an alarm, and they teach us to live in an adverse situation. However uncertain situations might be, we adapt, we embrace it in our lives. With the outbreak of the Corona Virus, we came across such a condition in decades, when the whole world was almost locked inside their houses. People are afraid, anxious, stressed of the situation. But the situation is bringing a revolution at such a large scale, which otherwise would not have been possible -a digital revolution.

With the shutdown of the whole world, the work pattern has been impacted in the most severe ways. Initially, people avoided their works, but now, work is needed to be continued to sustain lives. Work from Home, that is, to continue their regular work from their places, rather than meeting in a common office, came as a wave due to the pandemic. This new working method has impacted the whole of traditional work ideology.

Let’s first discuss its direct advantages and disadvantages;-

Advantages

One of the major benefits is the comfort of the employees. As the employees will work from home, they will self-administer the work. When a person goes to an office, s/he is expected to follow some ethics and norms. These norms include clothes, attire, self-maintenance, but this reduces their concentration from the work itself. But when there is no tangible office space, they are not invested in the secondary code of ethics, and hence can be more concentrated.

To work from home also saves a lot of time and money. Many workers spend hours in commuting to their workplace. This incorporates many parts of income of low wages workers. But this hurdle is also overcome by the new working style. Food in the office is also a major investment. People spend a lot of money on food in the office, still are not able to get proper nutritious food. This not only affects their wealth but also their health. In-home, everyone will get home-cooked food, and hence this will increase concentration.

The most important benefit is the flexibility of the schedule. In nine-to-five working the pattern, workers try to spend the time on work, just to go home. But this new pattern has encouraged the employees to work according to their will. They feel responsible and self-reliant. People try to finish their task in lesser time. Hence, they do the same amount of work in much lesser time. Many employees including professors who work at more than one place can now easily manage parallel work.

The new pattern has not only affected the employees, but also the employers. Initially, it will reduce a lot of investment on their part. They will not have to pay for fancy offices and their maintenance. They will not have to invest in many office supplies as well. Hence, they can invest the same amount in a more productive income-generating field to earn a profit.

Another major benefit for the employers is that they can hire the best employees from all around the globe, defeating all the geographical boundaries. They can easily assign different work to different people who can coordinate among themselves. This will also reduce management investment.

Disadvantages

Along with many advantages, there are certain disadvantages and problems in work from a home pattern. First and foremost, the lack of a proper working environment. At home, people are generally with their families. Hence, their concentration is diverted at many other places. Employees also lack seriousness and determination. They sometimes take long power naps, invest more than the required time at lunch and they are not able to differentiate between work and rest time. The nine-to-five job becomes a 24-hour job, where they are unable to manage their work. They lack a routine. As all of them work according to their comfort, they spend almost all day in parts on work rather a usual long continuous work time. This leads to an unmanaged ambiguous and unhealthy working practice. The feeling a lack of boundaries on when a person should start working, when should s/he get up and go to sleep when to log off of social media and more can feel like true liberation. This feeling gradually morphs into a feeling of being out of control for many who don't expect it.

Communication problems also play a major role. Every employee is at a different place connected through a virtual network. Hence, they lack coordination. Many a time, a team lacks its efficiency due to just one or two employees. When many people are working together and there is co-dependent, then these communication problems take a bigger role. As every person follows his/her schedule, they often lack a common work time.

Another problem is the lack of equipment and facilities, which are available in the office not home. These include various objects like multiple computers, printers, scanners and various facilities like internet, canteen and crèche. This results in the loss of efficient work.

There are some problems for the part of employers as well. Initially, administration problem. It is difficult to administer the work of so many employees without physical interaction. It takes a lot more time in coordination and problem-solving. They are unable to analyze the stress among the workers. There is also the risk of security of important information.

 

Efficiency and Productivity

Work from home, although became popular due to the Covid-19 outbreak, still was a culture in many domains of works, including the IT sector. This raises a question for the employers: Which is more productive for their work- work from office or home?

Air tasker surveyed to study the same in 2019 among US employees. Researchers polled 1,004 full-time employees among which, 505 were people who worked remotely. The study found that working from home increases productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles. It was found that on average a remote employee worked 1.4 days more every month. The difference in focus was not much (8% loss of focus in remote employees as compared to 6%). It also states that ‘long commutes caused 1 in 4 respondents to quit a job at some point.’ Workers saved $4523 on fuel, 408 hours a year (commuting time). According to Softchoice’s 2017 study Collaboration Unleashed, 74% of workers would switch jobs for the opportunity to work off-site more often. A similar study shows that remote employees lost 27 minutes per day on distractions, as opposed to the 37 minutes distracted office workers lost. A research was conducted by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research based on a randomized control trial on 1,000 employees of Ctrip, a Chinese travel company. It revealed that working from home for nine months led to a 13 per cent increase in performance – almost an extra day of output per week – plus a 50 per cent drop in employee-quit rates. The experiment was so successful that Ctrip rolled out working from home to the whole firm. A study also found that when faced with a creative task, people were more productive working from home.

Some other researchers show opposite results. According to Nicholas Bloom (Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research), “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days”. A 2012 study found that people performed “dull” tasks better in a controlled cubicle setting than they did in a less-structured remote environment.

 

Psychological effects

Our daily interactions are shown to reinforce our sense of well-being and belonging in a community. But today, millions are being forced to work from home, resulting in loneliness and isolation. Researches show that these can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.” For those who are accustomed to and appreciative of conventional office life and a steady rate of social interactions at the office, the shift to remote work might cause a relatively mild, deterioration of mental health. A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure company Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues. Another research shows that 54% of remote workers and 49% of office workers said they felt "overly stressed during the workday," 45% of remote workers and 42% of office workers "experienced high levels of anxiety during the workday," and 37% of remote workers and 35% of office workers said they "procrastinated on a task until its deadline." 

In 2019, State of Remote Work conducted a survey which showed that 49 per cent of remote workers claimed that their greatest challenge is related to mental health. 22 per cent are unable to unplug from work, 19 percent suffer from loneliness, and 8 percent struggle with motivation. In the UK, businesses lose £100m every year due to workplace stress, depression and anxiety. A 2017 United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers reported high-stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.

 

One study of 1,100 workers found that the 52% who worked from home at least some of the time were more likely to feel left out and mistreated, as well as unable to deal with the conflict between themselves and colleagues.

Environmental Benefits

Work from home not only benefits individuals in many ways but also the world we live in. When people will work from, there will be no need to commute to work, the automobiles will not be crowded on the streets. According to global warming reports, an average car emits about six tons of carbon dioxide every year. Air pollution is reported to be one of the world’s largest health and environmental problems, contributing to 9% of deaths globally. From 2005 to 2013, India emitted 20.54 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2), with emissions growing annually by 5.57 percent. Work from Home helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will also lead to less consumption of the fuels contributing to a greener environment.

Work from home will help in reducing solid waste as well. In offices, much of the work and documentation is in the hard copy form. According to reports, the average office worker generates about 2 pounds worth of paper and paperboard products every day and uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year. But when each person will work from home, sitting at different places, these hard copy documents will automatically convert into soft copy. Energy can also be saved. On average, large office buildings in the US use an average of 20 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 24 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot annually. This usage will be reduced in homes, mainly because the employee feels responsible and has to pay the bill himself/herself.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that the work from home has increased the use of the internet and devices. The global information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem has a huge environmental impact such that its carbon footprint is on a par with the entire aviation industry’s emissions from fuel. According to Gartner consultants, the internet was responsible for 2% of global emissions in 2007, outstripping the carbon footprint of the aviation industry. Even the manufacture of this device leads to a large amount of pollution. An average computer needs 240 kg of fuel, 22 kg of chemicals and 1500 litres of water. The increase in these usages of such devices will also lead to a large amount of resource use. A controversial article entitled “Power, Pollution and the Internet” in The New York Times put the figure at 30 billion watts of electricity usage in 2011, “roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants”. The CEET reports that the internet now accounts for 1.5% to 2% of the world’s energy consumption.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health disaster but also a mediator for change in work culture. And whether we like it or not, work from home is a big revolution which will continue to exist even after lockdown. Although it has many positive as well as a negative effect, we should embrace it, better the positives, and overcome the negatives. Mental health should be given special attention by both employers and employees. After all, we are human and can adapt ourselves to all adverse situations.

Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier?

Allowing Fear, to stop you from Growing, Evolving and Progressing.

Mandy Hole.