Working from home has been one of the most drastic changes to most of our lives over the last seven months. The dining room and kitchen table that hardly ever served as a temporary workstation have now asserted their dominance in our homes, and makeshift desks have set up shop in peculiar spaces, hidden from flatmates or children. The process has taken us through a rollercoaster of emotions, excitement, resentment, fear, peace and not to mention the distractions that many have had to wrestle with. Like any change in life, we are accustomed to adapt to it. Have we adapted past the point of return? Will we work from home forever?
With signs that the threat of the virus was waning during the end of the summer, governments began encouraging employees to return to their business premises, with safety restrictions in place. In response, many workforces began filtering back to their lives before lockdown, and tensions around minimal social distancing decreased. Now, the virus is flaring up again, which is bound to cause another shift.
A part-time basis of at home and in office working has also become commonplace. We all seem to be settling into a rhythm around the concept of remote working, and therefore have become more flexible. A survey conducted in May showed that 55 per cent of US workers wanted a mixture of home and office working. In the UK, employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to double in coming months, from 18 per cent pre-pandemic to 37 per cent post-pandemic. In China, employment expert Alicia Tun predicted that in ten years time there will be a split as far as 60 to 40 per cent employees wanting to continue working from home.
Working from home has in many ways accelerated the increase of overall technology adoption, as we are forced to collaborate on an online basis daily, no matter what sector of previous employment. Organisations were challenged to reimagine communications, and were also forced into seeing the emotional impact of the change between colleagues.
Working from home allows countless distractions. The internet can waver, computers can break and children can interfere. As we rely on technology more, surprisingly we also seem to be faced with a more ‘human’ side of humans.
Organisations are becoming far more aware of the need for flexibility and empathy. Research finds that nearly half of people working from home reported managing these at-home distractions as a challenge, no matter their ranking within a company’s hierarchy. As humans we have had to face similar challenges simultaneously that were not necessarily out in the open before.
Evangelist and head of NEC consulting at NEC Asia Pacific, Singapore-based Walter Lee said in a statement that “We have all had to adapt to this work from home environment very quickly, If there was one social lesson learned, it’s that we have all become more connected in a sense, because everyone—the whole world—is going through the same situation.”
Companies are being managed in various ways, some have given employees permission to continue working remotely until at least 2021, others have recalled staff to the workplace with different schedules and groups to keep the numbers down. Some companies are leaving it up to the individuals to decide where to be based.
Each and every one of us has a very different way of working, for example timings as to when we work best, are critical to many regarding productivity performance. Some need silence, and some need noise. If companies continue to allow flexibility around physical presence in the workplace then this could only benefit the overall business more. The introduction of flexible, or in another word, ‘hybrid’ working has given the in-office workforce a taste of what could be. Because of this, it may never be the same again.
Hybrid working is the key to understanding a more flexible future, it generally grants more autonomy to the employees to fit around the rest of their lives, instead of their lives fitting around work. TechRepublic produced an interesting manifesto in collaboration with Microsoft on how we may transition into this hybrid way of working.
Before we start praising this new approach to work, it should be noted that it could also do more harm than good in many circumstances. The pandemic finally shed light on the enormous socioeconomic and racial inequality between who is able to work from home and who is not, and it can’t be ignored anymore. We all live differently, by choice or not, which is the most important factor we should consider going forward as we brace for an inevitable hybrid workforce all over the world.