Starting in the age of unprecedented times during the COVID pandemic, working from home now has a precedent for the world’s workforce. In March 2020 several workers were furloughed and those who could work remotely were mandated to do so by state stay at home orders. As time went on the workforce was thrown into the sea of this new style of labor. Students became much more familiarized with platforms such as BlackBoard, Canvas and Google Classroom. Adults, many of whom had very little experience with technology in the workplace, had to navigate through platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. As time went on people became better and better at adjusting to this new way of working. Microphones were less likely to be muted when someone began to speak. They could work on shared documents using Microsoft and Google Tools and they began to realize that shorts or pajama bottoms were acceptable to wear to work in this new era of digitized labor.
Slowly and thankfully due to advances in science and medicine we as a society started to slowly get remnants from the past once more. Grandparents hugged their grandchildren again. You could go back to the ballpark or concert venue you missed and slowly the dreaded masks came off and smiles were shining again.
In 2023 it is pretty safe to say we are pretty close to being back to the way things once were. However, employers over the past year or two have had to make the all important decision: Is it necessary to require employees to return to the office when in many cases work was done efficiently online? Managers, CEOs, Corporate Boards and even politicians have had varied opinions about this topic. In many cases they have had to have tough conversations and do cost-benefit analysis in order to determine what most helps businesses stay growing out of the pandemic. There’s no better way to explore this than with a classic pro and con list about allowing employees to work from home.
Increased Employee Productivity- In a Survey by ConnectSolutions, 77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time. Many theorize why this is, but there are several possible explanations. Several people are more likely to work longer hours if they are working from the comfort of their own home. There also seems to be less distractions for some while working from home. For extroverted workers it is less likely that they will be prone to having long conversations at the water cooler about last night’s football game and for introverted workers the noise and the side conversations are eliminated giving them peace of mind to put all of their effort toward their work. Generally speaking a lot of time can be wasted at the office and from a pure productivity stand point those distractions can be limited if an employee is allowed to work from home.
Expanded Talent Pool for Employers- Perhaps the best candidate for your open position doesn’t live within a drivable radius from the office. Why not get the more qualified person that will make your company the best it can be? In rural areas where access to recent graduates is limited it may help to explore more saturated pools in cities like New York, Boston and Washington DC where high performing college students recently graduated. Work from home also expands the talent pool with individuals with special needs. According to a 2021 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, over 6 million people in the U.S. workforce have some form of disability. The employment rate for disabled people in that period was 52.7% compared to 81% for non-disabled people. Those individuals may have difficulty finding transportation to and from work and may benefit from a work from home environment. Diversifying your labor force is a huge benefit that can be gained by working from home.
Cost Savings for Employees and Employers- Of course as an upper level manager in a company, the bottom line at the end of the day is what matters most. When an office is full it costs a lot in utilities, supplies and materials and simply having a big enough office space to house dozens of workers. This all comes at a monetary cost. Dave Rietsema CEO of Matchr.com reveals the abundant savings that a company could obtain if they take a dive into the virtual work force. “Companies can save up to $11,000 per employee in terms of overhead costs if they switch to remote work. This is because companies with remote workers pay less in overhead costs such as utilities and resources for in-office employees as well as just needing less office space,” says Rietsema. Companies can downsize or possibly even eliminate office space altogether if they allow remote work when possible, which can save on costs of operation and year to year costs like property taxes.
Increased Employee Satisfaction- The most productive employees are usually the happiest. A study by Tracking Happiness had several key findings in their survey about working from home including: 1. The ability to work remotely increases employee happiness by as much as 20%. 2. Millennials are happiest when working remotely. 3. Returning to office-based work after the pandemic reduces employee happiness. 4. Employee happiness decreases as commute times increase. 5. Happiness at work is significantly correlated to overall life happiness. It seems to be like the autonomy of the employee to work wherever he or she seems the most comfortable leads to increased job satisfaction. Employee satisfaction while working from home can be traced to several causes. This includes, but is not limited to being able to care for children or pets while working, not having to deal with the frustrations or cost of commuting and the feeling of absence of micromanagement. Work from home can certainly can help employers with recruitment or retention as several people especially in the younger generation will job hop to a workplace that brings them the most joy.
Reduction of Absences- Working from home would certainly cut back on absences in the work place. Some offices especially with close quarters could be Petri dishes for spreading disease. The act of commuting could also lead to burnout which in turn could lead to poor physical and mental health which could cause an employee to utilize sick or vacation time. With work from home and flexible scheduling employees no longer need to take an entire day or half day for a simple hour long appointment. Most say that work from home ironically allows employees to be more present at work because work life balance leads to good attendance.
Communication Issues- In 2023 it may seem silly to think that communication would be difficult if employees were not allowed to meet in person, but they certainly can exist. Sometimes employees may have to delay assignments or projects altogether because they cannot proceed until they hear back from a supervisor or co-worker. In the days before the pandemic many employees were able to get near immediate feedback or clarifications about their work. Now that some employees are miles rather than feet away it could be difficult to get answers. This point is even more true if employees are located in different time zones throughout the country or even the world. An employee located in Beijing may need to wait until 9 PM or later to get response for an email they sent around noon local time if their office is located in the United States. Furthermore while the content of messages can be conveyed through text sometimes tone can’t. According to Entrepreneur.com up to 50% of emails and texts can be misunderstood. Much of the problem can arise from a lack of tone or facial expression. Meanings can definitely derive from physical acts rather than words.
Lack of Supervision- The most obvious hurdle of work from home is how to supervise workers. Some workers require an office setting and oversight in order to be productive employees. While remote tracking software like ActivTrack exists it may not be as motivating as being in the office and feeding of the energy of productivity. With work from home comes the theory that all workers will have self regulation which many do not.
Potential for Decreased Teamwork- While there have been great strides made on software for collaboration such as Microsoft Teams and Google Docs as well as video conferencing options such as Zoom or Cisco WebEx there may be some lag in the ability to get together as a team to work on a project together. Researchers evaluated data from 61,000 employees at the technology company from December 2019 to June 2020 and Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, released a study that revealed working from home may decrease teamwork, creativity, and communication. Certainly for big companies such as Microsoft with a lot of different roles and moving parts having everyone working on different schedules could certainly hurt.
Technology and Infrastructure Requirements- Work from home obviously requires a strong Internet connection. According to the FCC about 19 million Americans do not have reliable broadband connections. If an employer were to provide employees who were out of the office with mobile hotspots it could be a considerable cost. Certain software programs also may be necessary to complete day to day tasks and may be easier to simply download on office computers. Finally with non technical supplies such as desks, chairs and copier paper it could be expensive for employers to compensate employees for needed supplies.
Poor Work/Life Balance- Simply put some people need a mental separation from their home and their place of employment. The psychology of “constantly being at work” can get a few a little “stir crazy”. Many people claim that by working from home they always feel like they need to be working even after traditional hours. This could result in fatigue, burn out and even physical health effects.
There are certainly many benefits and drawbacks for an employer when making the decision on whether to allow his or her employees to work from home. Production of the company is paramount, but one cannot consider the production of the company without first considering the physical and mental health of their employees. While the early solutions post-pandemic seemed black or white, (Should we return to the office or not?) many employers have decided to split the difference and allow their employees to be autonomous and make the decision for themselves. If an employee is hired and given a paycheck many employers say that they should be trusted to make the decision on what works best for them in terms of a work setting. Many have decided to work on a hybrid schedule going into the office 2-3 days a week and spend the remaining 2-3 working from home to create a balance. With all things employers need to look at what works best for them. No office or company is the same as another and experiences in work from home versus full in person may vary greatly.