The other side of social distancing


Six months after thousands shifted to work from home (WFH) due to Covid, the thrill has begun to wane for some companies and employees. Indeed, there are cost-cutting advantages for corporates, but remote working has its downsides too.

Six years ago, a Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom and his graduate student James Lang, came up with a study that showed that at-home workers of Chinese travel website Ctrip were happier and more productive than their office-going colleagues.

The nine-month study showed that the productivity of remote-workers increased by 13.5% and that their rate of quitting jobs was only half that of the office-goers. However, the experience of many companies, either big or small, had been the reverse.

“The efficiency is down by at the least 30%. Those who took only six hours to complete the work is spending up to 10 hours,” says Binu Jacob, secretary, Group of Technology Companies, a regional organization of software companies.

Then, there is the issue of lack of socializing, which will affect a firm’s business prospects. “You look at the body language and expressions of others to get an idea of their needs. It wouldn’t matter much between your colleagues, but when you interact with a client, they open up during socialization, which helps us to better understand their needs. In remoteworking, this doesn’t happen and it results in an information gap,” says Jacob.

Inefficient training of newcomers and troubles with performance review are two other issues with work from home, Jacob added. While this is the experience of a chief executive, others in the lower rungs are also grappling with the shift to virtual working.

“Network connectivity is a big issue. It is also difficult to focus fully on work, and with distractions, the working hours get extended from the normal eight hours to twelve hours,” says a team leader with one of the Big Four global accounting firms.

“As more and more employees connect remotely with the dedicated servers, sometimes the servers won’t be able to handle the load. For that, companies are upgrading their servers and the business continuity programme department is taking care of it,” he says.

WFH has a negative impact on creativity, innovation and organizational health due to the lack of collaboration, warns Jackson Mathew, chief executive, Monlash Business Centre, Kochi, and an ex-Infoscion.

“Any organization thriving for sustained business performance, employee engagement and organizational health needs to focus on innovation, creativity, and organizational culture. Work from home organizations lack these outcomes and are likely to see long-term negative impacts,” Mathew says.

A market research firm Martec Group had surveyed 1,214 individuals across various industries, demographics, and seniority levels to identify how working from home during the pandemic is affecting employees. “Their survey found a significant decline in the mental health of employees across all industries, seniority levels, and demographics. Job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction were also negatively affected,” Mathew says.

Employees may also have to cope with stress from dealing with work at the same time as domestic responsibilities. “We have a couple of enquiries that came through online and also in person. In general, they shared the concern that while working from home, the expectations [regarding taking part in household chores] of the children, the spouse, or in-laws are high. Then, there are also issues regarding work-life balance. Especially, the women may find it difficult to manage it,” says Dr Vipin V Roldant, corporate psychologist and CEO coach, Roldantz Behaviour Makeover Studio.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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