The ‘WFH’ phenomenon

Businesses and individuals find themselves in a – relatively – new reality now. ‘Working from home’, is the popular concept, which has been vividly in-place over the past year. However, is the phenomenon a blessing or an anathema? For both companies and individuals, there are certainly numerous flexible possibilities that come with this practice. Interestingly, as I pointed out in a previous writing (How working roles changed, 28/02/2021), the trend is not new in our lives. It simply appears intensely now due to the pandemic circumstances.  

A selection of available statistics demonstrates that a vast amount of people now work from home. In some regions like the USA for instance, these numbers account for more than two-thirds of economic activity. That is a staggering fact. Therefore, on the pros list of “WFH”, one can say this is a good thing. If the majority of people had been totally disengaged from employment (unable to work from home), then the outcome could have been more catastrophic. On another note, the physical separation from the workplace has other positive effects. For example, there are economic benefits for employees (i.e. less travel expenses); lower virus transmission rates and WFH offers more flexibility. As I stated once before, remote working brought a degree of protection and safety through isolation. Nonetheless, of all the advantages, having better work-life balance seems the best benefit.

Hold on a minute, one may argue. Surely, working from home brings about negative consequences too! For a start, the plan discriminates between employee groups. Those who can and those who cannot work from home, for example. The later can be for many reasons, including lack of room, inconvenience, and the nature of occupation or due to technical challenges. Similarly, distractions must be top on the cons list when it comes to working from home. To end, in most cases, generally home facilities differ from those at the workplace. In such, that can be equally problematic. No doubt, having to adapt the home environment to a work setting must come with difficulties.

How are local economies affected?

Even so, I feel that the effects from working from home can touch certain areas more than other. We can look at locations that contain high employment rates to understand this well. Think of retail centers or financial districts normally found in the middle of big cities. These spaces often engage a large army of employees who in turn, generate enormous localized commercial and retail activity. If we are to assume that employees decide to work from home, there will be a corresponding erosion of the economic fabric in these areas. Furthermore, a succession of events will follow, where other associated functions will be affected including public transport, commuting services, catering etc.   

Having said all this, as an industry professional, I am cynical about the whole notion of home working. Especially, when this is for extensively long periods or in exertion to rearrange traditional approaches. Thinking about the situation, in my mind I draw quickly a list of concerns . . .

  • How can an employer adequately support staff in a setting where the employee has not comparative distinction between home-life and occupation?
  • How can we properly monitor employee’s quality of performance?
  • What are the mental health problems and other emotional issues that arise from been constantly living in a workplace mode. Think of employees who have children living with them as example. 
  • What happens to employee development?
  • Will lack of teamwork affect productivity and business efficiency?
  • How do organizations manage training and skill competence issues?
  • What happens to organizational values, culture and ethos in such circumstances?
  • Where do Health & Safety obligations start and finish?

The list can be endless. I am confident that thousands of other people share my reservations. To be fair, there is ample advice and support available for anyone involved in a work from home scheme. In the process of doing my research for this article, I came across a selection of useful subject related documentation. I have provided below a list of Useful References that can be of interest to the readers.

There is not universal solution to WFH

Overall, certainly there are numerous advantages and an equal amount of disadvantages for working from home. For me, there is not a universal solution for employers or employees that we can apply when deciding to work from home or not. It is nearly impossible to set out same criteria for all markets and every geographic location for people to choose the best resolution. Employment in the Public or the Private sector is likewise important on this debate. Take a traditional unionized industrial environment of a government department for example. The organizational subtleties involved in such setting are extremely irregular compared to those in private business segment. To close, cultural values and attitudes from nation to nation could be also influential in this case. 

At the end of the day, what people decide to do about working from home, should be of free choice. Whatever the case, employers must recognize there is a bundle of responsibilities that come with their role. WFH should not discharge employers from certain duties that they traditionally have. At the same time, employees should judge in a balanced way what the best working scenario is for them. Irrespective of what we think about WFH, personally I would not like to see the concept enforced for the wrong reasons. All individuals deserve to have a healthy work-home life option available for them.  

USEFUL FURTHER READING

UK NHS OneYou plan

NSW Government, Australia, WFH Guidance for employers

Scottish Government WFH relevant publication

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