When I was catching up with old school friends over a group call, I was surprised at how fed up they were with the idea of working from home. Redwan, who worked at a multinational company, was thoroughly disillusioned by the concept and had this to say:
"I thought I would enjoy the freedom of working from home at first, but I soon realised that the bond I have with my office and colleagues extends far beyond simply working together to meet deadlines through office hours," he explained.
"My colleagues played a crucial part in making me feel good after a bad day. We used to hang out regularly after office hours to share what was happening in our day to day life. With that being almost entirely missing now, I cannot stay in a good state of mind most of the time. This has had an impact on every aspect of my life, from my performance at work to my relationships," he said.
Pandemic-induced lockdowns have wreaked havoc on economies, businesses, as well as our psychological and physical well-being. COVID-19 has indeed compelled us to perceive many things differently.
One of the 'new norms' that we had to embrace with open arms for the sake of curbing the spread of the virus is the 'work-from-home' (WFH) culture. This abrupt relocation necessitated a significant amount of change, starting from the establishment of home offices to the relocation of entire households among other things.
With such heavy burdens and trade-offs involved, it is only reasonable to expect that everyone will not be fond of this transition, even though it benefits society as a whole. However, in that group call with my friends shortly after the announcement of another lockdown, this phenomenon became more evident to me.
Even though all my friends had different occupations, all of them agreed on one thing: WFH was a terrible experience. As someone who did not mind WFH because I did not have to travel much, I was immediately intrigued to learn about their reasons.
Lack of concentration
The first reason, according to Sadia, who worked in a prestigious legal chamber, is that she was unable to focus as much as she would have liked while completing most of the tasks assigned to her. Individuals completed assignments more efficiently in a monitored cubicle environment than in an informal remote setting, according to a 2012 study by E.Glenn Dutcher, because when they are at home doing 'dull' assignments, regular activities like watching television appear to be more amusing, thus distracting them.
Unfavourable conditions at home
Shourav, a project developer, stated that his quality of work was greatly hampered by the stress and strain caused by bad lighting, insufficient ventilation, uncomfortable furniture, and repeated interruptions from household noise, most of which were absent in an office environment.
Moreover, all of them talked about feeling uneasy when they were forced to participate in video calls while sitting in their home in front of people with whom they do not have a close bond, as this may imply that these people can see into their residences and personal relationships more than they would like to appreciate.
There is another aspect to this privacy concern. With the rise in popularity of video conferencing apps like Zoom or Google Meet caused by the adoption of WFH culture to support business continuity, concerns regarding data security have increased.
These concerns were highlighted recently when it was revealed that some platforms had been subjected to security breaches affecting a large number of users.
For instance, as per an article by Bleeping Computer, account information for more than 5 lacs Zoom users have been sold for about a penny on the dark web and many other hacker forums. With these loopholes in place, many employers and employees fear that their private conversations and other important information may get leaked causing significant physical, psychological, and/or financial losses.
Lack of communication becomes the barrier to enthusiasm
Asif and Nafia, who changed their job during the first lockdown mentioned that they could not interact with their co-workers as much as they needed to feel comfortable in a new workplace because they had to maintain social distance from them.
Moreover, they initially felt ignored and ostracised by colleagues who, to his pleasant surprise, appeared to be the most friendly and helpful individuals in real life. Hence, they feel that WFH does not help people (especially those who find themselves in a new workplace) in building a strong bond with colleagues, without which the overall enthusiasm of everyone at the workplace drops resulting in decreased overall productivity.
A 'hampered' learning experience
Another friend, Shahir who works in a local newspaper, added that he felt as if he was being deprived of learning a lot of things properly owing to the lack of physical training. When he was entrusted with the responsibility of training some interns, he struggled to teach them the basics of work and the industry due to the absence of real-life engagement and direct supervision.
For instance, if you decide to teach an intern how to write an engaging article for your newspaper, he will learn much quicker and more effectively if you guide him/her in person rather than just providing some pointers via email, he said.
Working around the clock
Because it is widely assumed that work-life balance is much easier to achieve in the context of WFH, many readers will be surprised to learn that one of the reasons most of my friends grew tired of WFH was that they had to work more hours a day with the gap between work and home shrinking compared to pre-pandemic times.
Mihir shared a funny yet tragic story in this regard. Before the pandemic, he said that his boss would only call him on rare occasions after regular office hours. However, as soon as they adopted the WFH practice, his boss made him work around the clock, to the point where he was unsure which time zone he was expected to follow while his wife suspected him of infidelity.
Are you a team player? - Maybe not any longer
Another friend, Ramisha, mentioned that, despite having been an excellent team player her entire life, she had to endure unprecedented hardships to meet deadlines for solving issues that required strong cooperation as teammates worked from distant locations, making it much more difficult to push and assist one another while maintaining proper coordination.
Because of the numerous benefits it provides, the popular view is that many businesses will fully adopt WFH in recent times. However, the truth is that the coming years will not be so black and white–there will be a great deal of grey area in the middle as many employers may believe that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
A hybrid employment system – a blend of offline and online employment – appears to be a solution to this dilemma. Since both have drawbacks, by striking a proper balance and not allowing one to take precedence over the other, a healthier work ethic can be fostered ensuring employee well-being without compromising productivity during the pandemic and beyond