We are comfortable working from home only because we feel certain that it is only a temporary substitute. How comfortable would you be even imagining working remotely forever?
Every humanitarian crisis disrupts the way certain things are carried out and sets precedence for a new order. The COVID-19 public health emergency has changed the way we greet each other, interact with others, learn and work. Working from Home has become the new order during the lockdown. Dining tables turned workstations and we are reinventing ways of managing teams, scheduling the work, using e-infrastructure, ensuring data privacy, etc.
While there are some associated benefits, some challenges could mean that remote working will not be the future of workspaces in India and that the activity returns to normal.
In a webinar snap poll conducted by Gartner, 91% of the attending HR leaders from the Asia/Pacific have reported that lack of technology infrastructure and lack of comfort with new ways of working are the biggest challenges of working remotely. Based on some articles and research work I have come across recently and from my personal experience, I’m highlighting the key challenges to working from home:
The Human Nature: We are social beings. In a research titled “Does working from home work? Evidence from an experiment” 2/3rd of the control group, who had earlier opted for working from home, has decided to return to office citing concerns over the loneliness of working remotely. Workplaces are more than just working on the spreadsheets. It’s the entire culture and values of people we work together with. Zoom interactions cannot replace face-to-face conversations, complex team dynamics and collaboration which make work more exciting. Popular journalist Henry Grabar made a point about “Psychological Safety” in ‘The Future of Work’ webinar. He says that we feel more comfortable while expressing ideas to our co-workers and that the remote communication reduces the psychological safety.
Building strong relationships, maintaining company culture and motivating employees are hard to achieve without physical presence. We are comfortable working from home only because we feel certain that it is only a temporary substitute. How comfortable would you be even imagining working remotely forever?
The struggle with unplugging: Working from home changes the daily schedules drastically among the majority. As per a survey conducted by Buffer, most remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work. Staying logged in way beyond routine work hours has become common. Working for considerably longer hours in isolation can affect the health of an individual. A research report titled “Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work” by the ILO (International Labour Organization) has data from 15 countries including India and sheds light on risks associated with working remotely. It lists longer working hours, higher work intensity and work-home interference as some of the major concerns. 41% of remote workers felt high stress levels while it was just 25% among those who work from offices. 42% of people who work remotely suffered from insomnia as compared to 29% of people who work from offices.
The Infrastructure: It is true that majority of the young Indian employees have migrated to cities and live in hostels and other paying guest accommodations. These shared living spaces don’t provide a quiet workplace environment and the challenges pertaining to high-speed internet, availability of power-backup, etc. will hamper the productivity.
Data Privacy: Several Indian IT companies deal with sensitive data of their clients varying from financials to health records. These operations are carried out in highly secure workplaces. Working remotely and having access to this data will only increase the data security risk.
Productivity: As per results from the Gartner snap poll, top employee complaint was about their managers concern over the productivity. A research says that face-to-face work teams perform better than virtual ones on creative assignments. Moreover, as stated earlier, distractions and infrastructure challenges could reduce the productivity of many employees while working from home.
Though working remotely has benefits like lower commuting stress, reduced costs of maintaining office spaces, decreased pollution levels, and reduced travel, the challenges listed above might not let the future of workspaces change significantly for many of us.
The author is Head - IT, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation and NEXT100 Winner 2018
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