Has the new reality affected our productivity at work, or quite the contrary?
Before turning on my computer, I like to prioritize my tasks for the day. Some of the tasks that make up my usual to-do list look like these: planning upcoming events, replying to emails, preparing for debate workshops, and submitting reports. While COVID-19 has changed the world, it has undoubtedly also modified my to-do list by adding tasks like taking clothes out of the washing machine, ironing, and doing the dishes. This pandemic has certainly redefined the perfect division of labor that existed between my wife and me. In the past, I was appreciated for the voluntary assistance I offered during busy weekdays. Now, that assistance is expected, voluntarily or involuntarily. After all, she tells me, I am working from home, and that is definitely easier than having to go to the office.
We are still halfway through a pandemic. Life is slowly and cautiously moving back to normal, and a lot of us are still working from home. But I often ask myself, if I have to choose, would I continue to work from home when the Corona-virus has become a memory of the past? Or would I want to go back to clearly defined working hours? Back to my office space that definitely has fewer distractions than home.
Let’s explore this question together.
If given a choice, would you continue working from home?
Arguments in favor of continuing to work from home
Perfect Work-Life Balance:
With work based on deliverables and deadlines, personal and professional lives seem to be in a state of equilibrium. Without having a typical 7.30 am to 3.30 pm workday seems challenging at first, but in reality, encourages us to explore the routine we find most suitable. I tried to get most of the work done while staying up all night during Ramadan and then slept through the day. I also tried sleeping early at night and getting up before sunrise, to enjoy the serenity and freshness of Aspire Park, and then heading home to sign-in for work. I guess all of this was possible because we are working from home with flexible working hours.
Routine is important, but everyone should be able to explore and decide what suits them. With flexible working hours, we can be productive by having well-defined deliverables, with deadlines and accountability, all the while following a routine that we enjoy the most. Imagine, after submitting a report that was due at 10 am, you go out for groceries, or get your car’s oil changed, or have a video chat with a school friend. Logging back in to work later, responding to emails, and scheduling meetings, before heading out to a park for a run.
Working from home might give the impression that decision making is slower. But mutually agreed times when everyone is expected to be available in real-time can address that concern. With advancements in technology, information can be sought quickly via text, work progress can be tracked through a planner app. At the same time, everyone enjoys more freedom over their schedules.
Harvard Business Review has been conducting a survey of more than 600 US-based employees since March to explore the impact of working from home. They found that contrary to the widespread belief that employee performance would significantly deteriorate, people quickly adjusted to working virtually, and in many cases, reported feeling as productive as before. They also find that employee stress, negative emotions, and task-related conflict have all been steadily falling. Additionally, employees report improvement in self-efficacy and focus. In a couple of months into working remotely, people started saying that they were falling into a consistent routine and were managing their time better.
Money Matters: Good for Companies and Employees
Working from home is very convenient. It means fewer trips to a physical office and more saving both time and money for employees. Employees will spend less money on fuel, car maintenance, and no rush to reach the office through the frantic morning traffic.
Companies will also save money. They don’t have to pay exorbitant rents or maintenance and utility charges. Shared or co-working spaces were already getting traction even before this pandemic. These spaces allow companies to rent meeting rooms and office equipment temporarily on a need basis.
Arguments against continuing to work from home
Work from home has blurred the line between work and home. Turning off work at home has been tough. Humanyze examined data from email, chat, and calendars of a technology company and found that since the start of work from home, initially, workday became significantly longer. However, eventually, this pattern started to trend back to the pre-lockdown levels. However, still, the workdays are on average, 10% to 20% longer.
It is also challenging to juggle between work and home. Just when you have found your focus to complete a work-related task, a household chore needs to be completed. Home can be distracting even if you find a quiet corner and allocate it as your home office. Some of us need the 9 to 5 discipline at an office that is away from home to find our focus.
“Hey, want to grab a coffee?”
Physical workplaces allow us to foster relationships with our colleagues that enhance productivity and reduce stress. Who doesn’t miss asking a colleague to join for a walk or grab a coffee? Didn’t we love bumping into each other in the pantry, hallway or the printer? Some of these interactions and experiences are very meaningful and sometimes only possible face-to-face. Pixar Animation Studios is credited with revolutionizing the world of films and animation with Toy Story. Steve Jobs is thought to have purposefully designed Pixar’s building to maximize such unplanned interactions that lead to meaningful outcomes such as collaboration and innovation. With people working from home, such interactions have indeed been limited.