Overnight, hundreds of companies had to close the office and send their employees home. After a few days of waiting for government advisories and policy memos from the board, businesses have had to change their workplace model. From a bustling office floor humming with keyboard tapping and drips from the pantry coffee maker, employees now face laptops perched on their breakfast table inside their own house. The COVID-19 pandemic mainstreamed the work-from-home (WFH) arrangement not just in the U.S., but in other parts of the world. Question is: is this model sustainable?
Why WFH Is Good for Employees
First, working from home is already a win for most employees, and certainly for those who need to make house payments. While being away from the office affected their professional and social life, at least, it did not leave them without a job to wake up for every weekday morning. The WFH crowd is just more than happy that they do not belong to the estimated 30 million who filed for unemployment claims as of July 2020.
Those who were deemed “redundant” had to get their bearings and plan what to do next immediately. After getting over the initial shock of seeing the pink slip, those who were laid off gathered their stuff from their tables, went home, and went online to look for an accurate home mortgage calculator. Those who had amortizations needed to compute their liquidity. That is to check if they needed to refinance their homes or hang on until the next job comes along. People can afford to lose their jobs temporarily and rely on unemployment assistance. Losing one’s home is never an option, especially now that eviction orders are being implemented, leaving many delinquent renters homeless in many states across the U.S.
With their careers still intact, those who had the opportunity to transition to WFH counted their other blessings: no early morning commute or putting up with heavy road traffic, savings on gas and lunch money, and more time for family at home. They also enjoy not having to buy new clothes for work and spending so much time grooming before going to the office. A quick shower, decent office attire, and for many, just a pair of slippers or socks are enough to join the Zoom conference with confidence.
Why WFH Is Strategic for Businesses
The WFH shift also brought advantages to business owners. For the first time, operating costs for electricity, water, and maintenance went down. Even the budget for grounds keeping around the corporate headquarters was slashed. The petty cash spent for pantry supplies like ground coffee, filters for the coffee maker, gallons of purified water, and snacks went into savings. While a few companies offered subsidies on home internet fees and sent out loaner laptops for use by staff, overall, the savings were significant.
Even top management and senior supervisors appreciated the change of pace as they freed up time to have more strategic meetings. In the old normal, they had to keep up with the daily grind since many of the mid-level managers had to solve problems on the floor. They, too, appreciated the extended time for family and the much less pressure of waking up and logging onto Zoom for the board meetings. While they did not get much green time at the golf club, they were able to catch up on some rest, sleep, reading, and recreation, which are all necessary to make them more physically and mentally ready for business leadership.
Downsides of WFH
As in all things, there are downsides to working from home. At first, employees appreciated that there were fewer distractions by working alone from one’s own kitchen table or bedroom using a personal laptop. There’s no wasted time on gossip or casual talk in the pantry or employees’ cafeteria. There are no lost sleep and no hangovers after overextending post-office hours drinking with office mates at the local bar. Still, the sense of isolation creeps in after about a week of WFH shifts.
Productivity also dips after for those who are married with children had to get up every so often to take care of their children’s needs. Eventually, the lines also blur between official online working hours and personal time. There is no clocking-in or clocking-out in a WFH arrangement. Some would argue that it is all just time management, but the reality is, one can also get so busy with work even if the office is now right at home. In short, coming to work and coming home seems to have become the same thing.
For management, monitoring employees to ensure productivity has become challenging. In many ways, it is more of an expression of faith in one’s staff to have them WFH. One needs to trust that they will do their jobs as hard as they would if they were in the office. Corporate leaders and top managers, being human, also struggle with the inertia of being at home. If they would only admit it, they would instead be practicing golf swings than sitting for a couple of hours in front of a laptop. Some might even try doing both at the same time; after all, they have enough space in the living room.
The Way Forward
Indeed, the work from home setup has been an advantage in terms of it being an effective strategy for business continuity. Advancements in computer and communications technology have erased boundaries for workers, and the WFH system has proven that, for the most part, employees can do their jobs at home as well as they do it in the office. The new setup of work, however, does not translate to all sectors or industries, especially those in manufacturing, food services, and several public service-related jobs like being a fireman or a hospital nurse.
Perhaps the way forward is for companies to develop better WFH policies and guidelines. A study on its long term impact on both the company and employees need to be done, considering many aspects such as productivity, employee morale, physical and mental health, social adjustment, among others. Making it an option to have designated office workdays and WFH mixed during the week will undoubtedly be discussed by management and human resource experts. For now, it remains a good experiment for companies and employees alike who need to stay active, creative, and financially secured during this ongoing pandemic.
Meta title: The Pros and Cons of Work-From-Home Arrangements
Meta description: COVID-19 forced companies to shut down offices and have their employees work from home. Read about the advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement.