Before the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, remote working was rare at best and certainly wasn’t ‘the norm’ as employees largely worked on-site during office hours. This changed when lockdown was introduced; businesses and companies had to look for a means of remaining afloat in the market and, at the same time, protect the welfare of their employees by keeping them safe from COVID-19. This birthed the revolution of remote work, oftentimes from the employee’s home. At first this was supposed to be temporary, but even after the lockdown was lifted and vaccination programs began to take effect, significant improvement in the productivity of employees who worked from home was observed. This option was especially beneficial to employees who were parents or caregivers to family members. This situation has led to the realisation that endless hours in the office did not always correlate to greater quality and quantity of work. The option of remote working, as observed from recent company evaluation, seems to favour both the business and its employees as the higher levels of productivity in employees lead to greater generation of revenue and achievement of key business targets.
Working from home eliminates the monotony of mundane office work, the burn out from the stress of commuting to-and-fro, especially for those who live a considerable distance from the office and do not have their own personal means of transportation, as well as the sometimes toxic working environment reinforced by the confinement of specific working hours. Each of these might seem insignificant initially, but over time they can cause a remarkable decline in the productivity of employees.
Nonetheless, some economists have forecasted that a substantial shift towards an economy which primarily works remotely could result in a permanent increase in productivity, perhaps due to a reduction in commuting and fewer of the distractions that can come with office life. However, I would personally posit the opposite; many remote workers have complained of the lack of motivation to perform their job alone on some days.
Moreover, according to a 2-year analysis by greatplacetowork.com, there has been research which suggests that a switch to permanent remote work would make employees less productive. People who shift to working from home can temporarily increase the amount of work they get done in a given day. However, over the medium to long term, long-distance employees can’t acquire several key benefits, including the development of new skills and friendships, which come with face-to-face contact. In-person work fosters innovation, the effects of which on productivity almost certainly exceed the gains from working harder at home for possibly unsustainable stretches.
This means that remote working may not entirely be the best option as it affects interpersonal relationships and interactions even though it is conducive to greater productivity in short spells. Hence a balance has to be made for the well-being of employees and, subsequently, the companies. The solution could well be to adopt a hybrid option combining both working from home and the office in order to maximize the full potential of employees at work whilst retaining full productivity. This could conceivably be met by applying a four-day-work week with the appropriate compensation.