COVID-19 and Work-from-Home: Bridging the Gap between Convenience and Grievance

Working from home is convenient. Since March 2020, most of the world has had a fair share of this convenience, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, work-from-home is not a novel concept. It has been there for several decades under the garb of remote working or telecommuting. Telecommuting was evaluated as a feasible option in the 1970s during the oil crisis. It has mostly been associated with a negative sentiment, with speculations centering on low productivity.

Work from Home: The Settling In

The pandemic has resulted in companies asking their employees to work from home for the rest of 2020. The current scenario has rendered different occupations experience different changes. Some roles, like that of a teacher, have little to no experience working from the confinement of a home.  While, many industries, like the IT, found the transition to the work-from-home model rather smooth. The comfortable transition is accredited to strict adherence to the quality process and availability of communication bandwidth. The increase in Wi-Fi and Cloud software systems has made work-from-home possible for many sectors. But is it feasible for all? Is everyone able to cope up with the forceful change?

Working from Home: The Grievance

A recent survey in the UK revealed that only 34% of those working from the confines of a house have access to a desk. Hence, the absence of office space will affect the output of the work from that in an office. In countries like India, the home-buying activities and real estate sales dropped in the April-June quarter. However, as of now, online portals are witnessing surging traffic. The inquiries have gone up, with people seeking spacious houses. Many are looking to upgrade their houses as per remote work, and there is a drop in the demand for one-bedroom houses.

Another factor is slow or limited internet access. In developing countries, the economic development of such countries forms a deciding factor for the increase in the share of ICT jobs requiring internet access. Also, poor internet connectivity and residential access hinder the ability to complete the work. Access to the internet thus becomes a dominant factor for most home-based works. Whereas in rich countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Luxembourg, etc. internet constraints hardly matter.

Further, many are finding it hard to draw lines between their personal and professional time. The ‘flexible’ working environment becomes more difficult to cope up with children around. Many surveys also suggest that many people are putting the commuting hours right back into their work. Most of the employees are spending extra hours to prove their productivity and end up losing track of time due to unestablished boundaries.

Many firms and managers have reported difficulty in evaluating their staffs’ progress and performance, due to the absence of office space. This is seen in job roles where background duties cannot be monitored. There are lesser involvement and communication between employees and team members. Software issues and technical errors become a headache during such times, as it becomes more difficult and tedious to fix.

Mental health is another real concern. A global study conducted by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics, and SAP, found that the COVID-19 outbreak had impacted almost 40% of people’s mental health. More anxiety and stress were reported. Another survey of the US employees by Doodle puts forth that the business pressure and performance anxiety push employees into competitive mode.

Further, the rising number of employees working remotely means an increased risk of leaking sensitive information and data thefts. A global survey by Barracuda Network says that almost 66% of the Indian organizations have witnessed at least one data breach after adapting to the work-from-home model.

Initiatives and Steps for the Way Forward

Tech-giants like Nokia, Uipath, Twitter, etc. have implemented remote working policies. The employees will be reimbursed for their home office set-up expenses. Hike, a mobile messaging platform, has allowed its employees to work from home throughout the year. The company has decided to spend around 40k per staffer to aid them in setting up a comfortable workspace at their home.

The data protection regulations and cyber threats during the pandemic have forced enterprises in Germany to look for service providers for improving their cybersecurity. Mobile operators like Telefonica, Vodafone, and Hutchison Drei, are opting for network-based security solutions to provide cybersecurity services. Companies are making use of cloud security tools, from the DDI (DHCP, DNS, IP Address Management) family, for securing the borderless enterprise.

To maintain the mental health balance in such a stressful atmosphere, companies like Google and Cisco started the day-off trend in May. Recently, the Ad agency, Ogilvy, offered a day of paid leave. Such initiatives will aid employees in dealing with work-from-home stress.

Devils Backbone Brewing Company has hosted happy hours on Zoom, along with special meetings for parents balancing remote work and childcare. The company has also started a virtual book club to encourage professional development. Financial Times has partnered with its Employee Assistance Provider to offer regular one-on-one counseling. They have also mobilized the internal network of mental health ambassadors for aiding the employees.

Microsoft, through its products, such as Azure cloud computing and Microsoft Teams, has helped in coping up with the stress involved in moving the work to home. For instance, the use of Microsoft Teams saw a rise of 500% in China, from January to March. Teleperformance launched three revolutionary cloud campus hubs in India for minimizing hassles involved in working from home. These are equipped with technology that allows effective management of remote teams. It also supplements an entire end-to-end virtual ecosystem, wherein candidates can be hired and trained.

Accommodating the New Norm

In foresight, the work-from-home culture is to stay here for a while. Google has extended its work from option for its employees, across the globe until June 2021. Also, giant IT players like Tata Consultancy Services is aiming to reduce their employee’s time spent in the office in the next five years, to enhance the remote working model. Facebook recently announced that as many as half of the company’s employees would work from home within a decade.

The Coronavirus graph has not waned as of now. Companies are wary of reopening their offices, given the responsibility and risks involved in the tackling of the virus. They are also welcoming the change and adopting a seamless model for the same, along with modifying their infrastructure. Remote work is slated to be the way forward.

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