Oh Work from Home (WFH), my old friend. All of us have now experienced the WFH lifestyle and find ourselves wondering what next? The last 9 months have been, if nothing else, an educational experience for all of us. Companies and organizations of all scales, governments, families, individuals have all adapted in order to protect ourselves and reduce the spread of the virus. For the most part we have all done pretty well but we have to remember we have done this because we have had no choice. We have tried WFH before COVID in various ways and seen it work for only a handful of people and led to the working from coffee houses as a culture. Will WFH last? Will it have some impact on our workstyles? Questions such as these are making the circuit as small shifts in this working pattern can have large effects.
All companies have adjusted very well to accommodate for the needs of their employees to be able to WFH but it has had its share of challenges. First, we must remember that if we are talking about the service industry then yes WFH can now work pretty well. But, what about the manufacturing sector? The logistics sector? The construction industry? There are so many types of jobs that cannot WFH and will always need to brave the odds to survive. Second, though the service industry, that can potentially survive a WFH enforcement, has indeed met the challenge but there is now fatigue setting in. Human beings are extremely social beings and we love to interact. Currently we are in work from home mode as we do not have a choice but once those restrictions are lifted we would love to break free and go outside. I know I would. Even from a company perspective, collaborating is a very essential part of business and doing it face to the face is in fact faster and better. We feed off the energies of each other and no amount of virtual calls can solve that. Third, a lot of our homes are not built for working. For work to continue uninterrupted, well, we need no interruptions. Homes rarely have good infrastructure for lease line internet, tech security, ergonomic furniture, enough space for all and with the recent full day black out here in Mumbai- no back-up generators! At home, lines between work and life are blurring and people find themselves working all the time which leads to stress. Let us not discount the effect of the constant overall stress of the pandemic that has been looping on the back of our mind. This eventually adds up and can be detrimental to our overall health. Let us be honest – Yes WFH is possible, but is it the best thing in such a high dosage? Home is personal, work is collective. There need to be boundaries to define the two and physical dedicated space for the two helps us do that very effectively.
The way forward
Where do we go from here? This recent experiment has helped us realize that we can manage by blurring those lines in a controlled and limited fashion. The advantages of WFH also exist. Travel times are reduced to zero, thereby giving us nine efficient hours of work and the lost hours of travel plugged into personal/family time. Once the family is back to doing their own things and out of the house then the home can be a great place to work when you need to sit down and focus on a particular deliverable.
Going forward, we can see some companies giving the flexibility to their employees to WFH for a few days in the week. Companies that are in their own office spaces will redesign them to accommodate for flexibility. They might require less space if they are to account for WFH or perhaps more if social distancing is to be accounted for. A hybrid idea emerging is where companies are looking at giving employees the option to work from workspaces close to their home from coworking/ flexible workspaces. If the company is already in a flex workspace that has multiple locations, then the company can take advantage of that and give their employees the opportunity to work from different locations. This new way of working could potentially change the face of work for the years ahead.
The ebbs and flows of this pandemic shall continue for a few more months but we will return to normalcy with renewed vigour. WFH will help us rethink how we work and how we can change our previous working styles to incorporate it to our advantage, which will have an effect on our workspaces and the way we work. But the bottom line is that we love working together and a bundle of sticks is always stronger than sticks apart.