How The Corona Virus Might Change The Working World As We Know It
While working from home simply isn’t possible for everyone, “the technology sector has effectively gone remote” with big business like Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter, among others, asking their employees to stay away from the office and embrace a new culture of remote work from home.
Working from home isn’t for everyone, but it does have at least as many benefits as it does challenges. As companies adapt to coronavirus remote work from home is a must, but will such practices continue after the pandemic passes – assuming it does?
The remote work from home movement happened long before anyone had even heard of coronavirus or considered the consequences of tucking into a smokey pangolin stew, but the virus has caused a sudden upsurge in the number of people turning their homes into offices.
Amazon alone asked, “workers in its hometown of Seattle and nearly Bellevue to stay home until the end of March”, which translates to another2,000 people working from home. Meanwhile, Twitter asked its entire workforce of 5,000 to work from home and Google changed its stance from “allowing employees to work from home” to “asking all employees who can work remotely to do so”.
Some fear that “companies may rush into it [remote work from home] without the proper setups”, giving their workers “a bad impression”, but as the situation continues, those same businesses have the chance to smooth out any wrinkles and create a remote working environment that suits them and their employees.
Twitter’s head of human resources, Jennifer Christie believes, “people who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way” while Matt Mullenweg, the chief executive of Automattic, the company that owns WordPress, says that, thanks to coronavirus, remote work from home “might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility”.
Working from home might not be the right move for everyone, however, and, writing in The New York Times earlier this month, Ken Roose argued, “Most people should work in an office, or near other people, and avoid solitary work-from-home arrangements whenever possible”.
Roose believes that many of those forced to switch to a remote work from home scenario will find it difficult to separate their home lives from work. He also contests that creativity and innovative thinking suffer when people are unable to problem-solve face-to-face.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of remote work from home situations and what changes will companies need to make to provide the necessary support to their remote workers, both in terms of direction and leadership, and technology?
The Benefits of Remote Work From Home
People who work from home are often more productive and work longer hours than their office-bound colleagues. A Gallup study discovered that “engaged employees are more enthusiastic, energetic and positive” and, as “job flexibility increases engagement”, employees who have the opportunity to work from home 60 to 80% of the time enjoy the “optimal engagement boost”.
It seems most people are eager to embrace remote working opportunities regardless of the coronavirus quarantine situation and Gallup’s research indicated that 51% of workers surveyed would “switch to a job that allows them flextime”.
It’s not just employees that can benefit from remote work from home situations – the planet can too! With the average American now living a 27-minute drive from their place of work, most of us spend an hour emitting fumes as we travel to and from work. A company whose employees work from home, on the other hand, has a much better carbon footprint. Back in 2015, for example, Xerox announced that its use of remote workers meant its global staff drove 92 million fewer miles, “which reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 41,000 metric tons”!
Businesses can also save money by switching to remote work from home scenarios, cutting down on office space and reducing their real estate overheads. When IBM embraced the remote work from home culture back in 2009, it boasted that “more than 58 million square feet of office space had been unloaded, at a gain of nearly $2 billion”.
Increased productivity also means increased profit and some companies have reported their remote workers have closed up to 30% more sales than their traditional office-based workers, while “customer complaints decreased by 90%”.
Other benefits for employers include:
- Better communications mean less time wasted in unproductive meetings
- Improved inter-departmental collaboration
- Expands the prospective employee pool by reducing geographical boundaries and giving access to those who are already home-bound due to disabilities, caregiver responsibilities, etc.
- Greater scalability
- Improves employee retention and reduces the financial wear and tear caused by recruiting and training recruits.
The Downside of Working Remotely
For every study saying that remote workers are more productive, there’s another one stating that the opposite is true. An extensive study performed by Gallup revealed that employees who have a best friend in the workplace “are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce high-quality work, have high well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job”.
Other studies suggest that a remote work from home employee is likely to be more productive if their position requires them to interact with clients regularly and those that require virtually no interaction at all. Meanwhile, for people whose jobs require “collaborative efficiency”, an office-based scenario is more productive.
Although one would think that communication technology has advanced so much that it matters little whether we’re 30 meters or 30 miles away from one another, it seems that’s not true. A study of IBM workers found that those “in the same office traded an average of 38 communications about each potential trouble they confronted, versus roughly eight communications between workers in different locations”.
There are both positives and negatives to remote work from home but with the current pandemic, employees and businesses alike have little choice but to accept it. Their success in absorbing flexible working practices in the company culture will influence whether those practices remain in place once the pandemic has passed.
At present, for many of us, there is no alternative to working from home, so we need to make the best of the situation by embracing proven working practices, keeping lines of communication open, and ensuring the security of those communications and online collaborations.
Create a Positive Working Environment
Some companies make it mandatory that anyone working from home has a separate space in which to work, which can be shut off from the rest of the house. Others insist that remote workers must have someone else on hand who is dedicated to looking after any children or pets in the home so they can focus on the task at hand.
With many of us living in small apartments and battling with the problems of sharing cramped living spaces, finding somewhere to work can be challenging. Working in a space with plenty of natural light is likely to make you more engaged and therefore more productive, although some find “a closet with a desk in it” is enough to create “separation between professional and personal space”.
Whenever we think of remote work from home, we have visions of people flopping around in their pajamas all day, but research indicates you’ll be a lot more productive if you get dressed. What’s more, if you’ve got dressed, done your hair, and even applied a little make-up, you’ll be ready and able when those video conferences come around.
Career coach, Heather Yurovksy, says we shouldn’t “underestimate the power of putting on clothes suitable for public viewing. It makes you feel human [and] confident,” she says, “and helps draw the line between being at work and being at home”.
Communication is Key
Having systems like Adobe Connect, Slack, Fleep, and Skype means we can stay in touch with our colleagues throughout the day. It’s up to the managers to ensure these communications systems are used regularly and effectively, however.
A study performed by the Harvard Business Review showed that regular communications are key to the successful leadership of remote workers. Whether it’s daily, bi-weekly, or weekly, it doesn’t matter provided they are consistent and include scheduled one-on-one meetings as well as regular group chats or video conferences.
Create a daily or weekly schedule that resembles your normal office hours, and set up filing systems and to-do lists to help you stay on track. Maximize your most productive times by preparing for distractions in advance.
If, for example, you always used to work until 5 pm but now you’re at home, the working day ends promptly at 4 pm when the kids get back from school. Instead of losing an hour’s work, try starting earlier or working through your lunch break instead.
Protect Your Data
Cybersecurity is key when you work from home and making sure you make regular backups of the work you’ve done is as crucial as ensuring your online privacy is protected.
Using reputable antivirus software can help protect you against the pandemic of coronavirus malware and phishing attacks, while the best VPNs for laptops can encrypt all your online traffic and protect you against other cyberthreats and man-in-the-middle attacks.
Following these 11 tips to protect your internet privacy will go a long way to protecting your work-related data and prevent you from being the weakest link in this strange coronavirus remote work from home scenario.
Remote Work from Home Technology and Etiquette
Thanks to the coronavirus, remote work from home technology and software are enjoying more widespread popularity than ever before while tech giants like Google are rolling out free apps to support the coronavirus remote work from home movement.
As we mentioned earlier, staying in contact with your employer, managers, and colleagues is crucial, and Google just announced it will be “offering free access to advanced Hangout Meets video-conferencing” facilities to all remote workers, teachers, and students.
Whether you’re using Google Hangouts or another video-conferencing tool, like Zoom or Skype, you need to be professional. Make sure your equipment is working before the conference begins and choose a quiet location where ambient sounds are minimal so your colleagues can hear you.
Project Management Software
In many instances, it takes a team of people collaborating on a project to see it to fulfillment, and work management, task management, and project management software streamlines this communication and keeps all team members on track. Apps like Zoho Projects can help teams plan projects, keep track of their development, and create reports and deadlines.
Project management software takes away many of the issues that arise in remote work from home situations where miscommunication and scheduling errors can disrupt the entire process. Clear expectations at the start of a project and workflow progress reports can help keep the whole team on the same page and work effectively toward the same goal.
Daily Communication Services
Keeping your boss up to date with your progress is even more important when you’re working remotely. Similarly, employers must provide remote workers with regular feedback. This is often done more effectively with an instant messaging service like Fleep or Slack, rather than email.
Even sharing personal information can be a good thing, says professor of organizational behavior at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Jeanne Wilson. In fact, those who share their thoughts on the latest Netflix series, or a recent family get-together trust each other more and have stronger personal connections.
Loneliness is one of the common issues facing those working from home and especially by those forced into a remote work environment by the coronavirus quarantine, so sending an encouraging message can be as important as consistent work-related communications.
There’s no IT department hidden away in the pantry and no team of technicians waiting to drop down through the chimney, so keeping cyber threats at bay is your responsibility, as is the security of the data on your laptop.
As we mentioned earlier, robust antivirus protection coupled with a reliable VPN goes a long way to keeping your device free of viruses and your data hidden from prying eyes. Using a good password manager not only means shoring up your online credentials, but will also give you a secure, encrypted vault to store sensitive work-related documents.
Keep a backup of your work in a secure cloud storage facility so that, even if your laptop comes down with a fatal virus, your data will be safe and easy to restore.
We have the technology to remote work from home, but will we still want to embrace it after the pandemic has passed and we’re released from our homes? Remote work expert and advisor, Hiten Shah, says, “Right now, remote work isn’t working for most companies. That’s because we spent the last 120 years learning how people can be productive in an office”.
If employees embrace new working practices and managers get better at “judging productivity by setting and monitoring specific goals rather than using the proxy of office attendance”, many companies could find remote work from home scenarios boosting productivity and leading to happier, more engaged employees.
While working remotely works for some people, it’s not a perfect fit for everyone. Julia Auston, a professor at Harvard Business School, says, “Some people are more productive and happier and find other ways to get social contact if they work from home. And some people aren’t happy working alone”.
Remote work from home could transform some people’s lives, lead to greater productivity, less time spent commuting, a smaller carbon footprint, and reduced real estate overheads so it’s got a good chance of it staying around long after the coronavirus pandemic is finally over.