We are almost two years into the pandemic economy. One where a lot of employees were forced to adopt remote work. Now while this was clearly a re-adjustment for a lot of businesses it gave them a chance to explore different working models and 2 years on we are seeing the results of this experiment.
Now it is important to note that remote work is not a completely novel idea, even pre-COVID. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that before the pandemic 20% of workers did all their work from home, this figure however rose to 70% during the pandemic.
One and a half years into the new normal and many have suggested that the pandemic might signal the ‘death of the office.’ And to their credit, there is credible evidence to support this sentiment. Many workers do in fact prefer to work from home as compared to the office. Remote work is more flexible and gives them more time with families and friends.
The question however is whether this model is good for business. Do companies benefit or lose when most of their workforce operates remotely?
The answer, as are most things in business, is a little more nuanced. According to a report by TIME: The verdict is clear: For many jobs—particularly collaborative, high skill level, high-value roles—working from home simply doesn’t work, and we shouldn’t confuse a temporary abnormal with a new normal.
In short, for high-level jobs, working entirely from home does more harm than good for the company. These jobs require constant communication for effective collaboration on a complex project. This is difficult to achieve in a virtual environment where, according to research, workers are said to feel more like a ‘worker’ and less like a member of a team or a family.
While a virtual environment may be just enough for communication, it is often insufficient for effective teamwork. Remote individualized work breaks the mechanisms that allow a team to do very creative work. A lot of studies on work and have found that teams do their best work when they put all their collective attention on a single project to achieve what is termed as ‘team flow.’
Remote work has been found to make it hard for teams to achieve this dream state as online communication is not as effective as face-to-face. In a virtual conference meeting, for instance, it would be hard for a speaker to correctly gauge whether her/his audience is engaged or not. Many do fall asleep or simply lose interest in these meetings.
This kind of isolation causes other downstream effects on the workforce as employees feel more disconnected from their colleagues. The US Department of Labor recorded one of the highest quit rates at 25.5% in 2020 earning the term ‘The Great Resignation’. Millions of workers simply quit their jobs in 2020 and 2021.
A New Model
If HR departments are to hold on to their employees, the remote model needs to be slightly modified to encourage greater collaboration between team members. While a remote model is clearly preferable for a majority of workers, team members do have to meet from time to time to build crucial bonds for effective team building.
A hybrid working model where members are expected to be in the office at certain times of the week while still retaining a work from home model is the way to go. It will give employees much-needed connection with each other while still maintaining a work-life balance for employees.
It will also help re-integrate people into the office as economies slowly open up while keeping the freedom that was enjoyed when working from home.
Such a model is however easier said than done. It would need several iterations to get right. Employers and HR Departments will however have to work hard to ensure an effective model that works for both the workers and the company as a whole.