Some implications of longterm WFH arrangements
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
As working from home becomes a seemingly long-term plan, it's worth considering the social divide this could create as well as how it could impact our social life and health.
Apple has released its latest ad, a seven-minute saga which details the hilarious and relatable challenges of “the whole working-from-home” thing. Far from being a short term COVID-19 defence tactic, experts believe that the stigma associated with remote work has now all but disappeared, meaning it is likely to morph into a permanent reality.
This raises significant consequences because put simply, not everyone can work from home. Perhaps they work in retail, transport, or healthcare. Perhaps they don’t have the facilities or internet capacity to work effectively. One American academic describes this as “generating a ticking time bomb for inequality.” While more educated, higher-earning employees work from home ad get paid, those unable to work from home get left behind.
Commuting costs time, money and can expose people to air pollution, but it also gives employees time to transition between work and non-work roles, which is especially important for people in difficult jobs. The loss of commute time can blur boundaries and increase stress, or lead to increased work hours which have knock on health effects such as high blood pressure.
Whilst some people welcome the distraction that can come from coworkers, others crave the social contact. It’s proven that employees who participate in office small talk experience more positive emotions, go out of their way to help co-workers, and end the workday in a better frame of mind. It’s hard to replicate this virtually, although Microsoft Teams new ‘Together Mode’ might be the next best thing. It was developed after the company commissioned a study which found that not only was the human brain never designed for video meetings, remote workers who have only ever interacted via video meetings, who later meet in person, find the in-person meeting almost as mentally taxing as a video meeting.
What’s clear is that working from home is not inherently worse or better than traditional office arrangements, assuming you have the facilities and opportunities to do so. Benefits are more likely when organisations provide support in the form of technology, ergonomic equipment, and managers trained to supervise remote workers. Monitoring staff with “Big Brother” technology, while necessary for security professions, can easily have unintended consequences and impinge on the decisions employees can and should be making about their time management – we know that when employees are given choice over the schedule and location of their work, the psychological, physical and productivity benefits can double. If employees and businesses can get it right, then for those who choose to work from home the coronavirus outbreak could be the tipping point to make it the norm.