Remote working is in vogue, and more and more companies are embracing the idea of remote working (or at least letting their employees work from home from time to time). In the U.S., almost 30 percent of private-sector companies, which employ most of the remaining half of the U.S. workforce, allow limited work from home. At the same time, the remaining 10% of employers and 3% of workers are entirely remote. Moreover, in a McKinsey report, 9 out of 10 organizations are switching to hybrid working, which is what many companies are planning to do. For them, remote working is an added benefit they can give their employees — the gift of flexibility. Employees don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or wasting time on public transportation. They’re also allowing them to spend more time with their families. All this while benefiting from increased productivity, employee happiness, and loyalty.
Which sounds like the best of both worlds for both parties, right?
Despite the positive press surrounding remote working, some studies suggest it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. According to Microsoft’s New Future of Work Report, although remote work can improve job satisfaction, it can also lead to social isolation, job insecurity, and WFH burnout. COVID-19 has compounded these effects and impacted employees’ health and well-being globally. Today, we’ll tackle some of the drawbacks of remote working and why some organizations and employees still prefer being in the office.
The Auxiliary Theory of Remote Working: An Employee’s Point of View
Once upon a time, working from home seemed like a dream come true for many — with the utopia of exercising on breaks, making healthy home-cooked lunches and easily being able to make the school run. However, reality has looked very different.
A bane for mental health issues—employee burnout, social withdrawal, and isolation
Remote working is a two-edged sword. Many of its perks have also become hazards. For instance, remote working has affected many employees’ mental health. In a global study performed by SAP, Qualtrics, and Mind Share Partners, 40% of respondents said that their mental health has deteriorated and increased anxiety and tension. During the same period, the number of individuals rating their mental health as a 3 or less on a 10-point scale has more than doubled.
But why is this happening? According to Nicola Hemmings, a workplace scientist at mental healthcare provider Koa Health, the lack of human connection has been one of the drivers of mental health issues among remote workers. She pointed out that employees have missed out on the social cues of a busy office and much needed social interactions — catching up in the corridor or making a drink in the kitchen while checking in and asking about the weekend.
Personal interactions were phased out in favor of consecutive Zoom meetings. Employees are constantly under pressure to attend to everything, which adds a new degree of stress to their jobs- making employee burnout not a new notion.
Blurred lines between home and the office
The shift to remote working due to the coronavirus pandemic has led many employees to experience walking the tightrope of a hyper-connected life. People want to feel connected to a company by having a sense of purpose and place; however, with how connected we are today using our various technology, it somehow has sprung blurred lines between the office and at home.
In a study conducted by the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, one of the main reasons why there is a blurred border between work and home is because of how powerful, and advanced smartphones are. For instance, in the evening, you could check to see if the supervisor has sent an email. Alternatively, you may go through the figures for the meeting over breakfast. On the weekend, perhaps you go for your phone to quickly find out some information. For many people, extensive smartphone use leads to a lack of distinction between work and personal life. Technology has allowed one to stay in the workplace long after their hours are over.
Professor William Becker of Virginia Tech supported this argument, noting that “flexible work boundaries” frequently morph into “work without bounds” since employees have access to advanced tools on and off the job, which he claims threatens employee health and well-being.
Should our advanced technologies be solely to blame, or should it be the fast-paced environment every company is trying to portray?
The Auxiliary Theory of Remote Working: An Organization’s Point of View
Dealing with employee moonlighting
Moonlighters are people who have more than one job. They might work a regular 9-to-5 as their primary source but pursue a side hustle after hours.
Companies have objected to the practice, claiming that employees with numerous jobs are less productive. While the situation exists in other countries, it’s a controversial debate in India, particularly within the tech sector.
For instance, Wipro India has terminated approximately 300 employees for ‘moonlighting,’ the IT services giant toughened its stance on employees working a second job after hours in order to maintain high productivity in the organization. NG Subramaniam, the CFO of Tata Consultancy Services, backed this up and has described it as an ethical concern due to the following:
- Conflict of Interest: There are concerns about potential conflicts of interest produced by an employee working for a competitor or divulging private or sensitive information.
- Concerns about employee job performance: Companies are concerned that if an individual overworks him/herself, it will damage productivity or performance at the main job.
- Lack of concentration and fatigue: Employees who double up may become physically and mentally exhausted, resulting in difficulty focusing, lethargy, and other health-related issues. This has a progressive impact on the growth of the company where they work.
Remote work has exacerbated internal communication concerns as well as the difficulty of maintaining high team efficiency. One of the most significant barriers to efficient communication in remote teams is a lack of physical cues. For remote workers, a lack of daily physical interaction can lead to a sense of alienation and lower employee engagement.
Async communication has come into the picture. Some companies view it as a solution to communication gaps due to its advantages, including the ability to support varied preferences and eliminate hybrid team unfairness. However, it’s challenging to get the appropriate balance of communication. Numerous communication tools are available, but are all team members using them with the same expectations? How do you prioritize jobs that come in from multiple sources? Individual adaptation styles still differ depending on the team and individual.
Is Remote Working a Blessing or a Burden?
When it comes to remote working, the truth is that it can be a blessing or a burden. Ultimately, everyone will have a different opinion. Perhaps it’s something that needs to be determined by each individual based on their circumstances.
If a company has a huge workforce and exerts effort in employee experience programs , the argument for remote working may become stronger.
On the other hand, if employees are unable to effectively communicate with one another and have slow adaptation styles, there’s no way for them to collaborate on projects efficiently—then organizations need to enforce stricter efforts in keeping the teams as one.
In addition, there is increased anxiety amongst remote workers related to job security and compensation with the ongoing recession. HRD reports a GoodHire study in which 78% of the workforce feels that remote workers have an increased risk of losing their jobs as compared to office workers during a recession.
Taking everything into account, it’s clear that remote work can benefit us in some aspects, but it can also cause issues in others which we need to be aware of. The best thing we can do is consider this balance before deciding if remote working is for us.