COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll in human and economic suffering. We will never get back the spirit and vibrance and talent and contributions to society of those we have tragically lost to this pandemic. The American economy is reopening, slowly, and we are hopefully on the way to recovery from the huge economic setback.
In the middle of all of this has been a surge in remote work which has translated to working from home (WFH) out of necessity. A recent LinkedIn poll indicates that 55% of U.S. workers say their industry can succeed when people are working virtually. And businesses are listening. Walmart and Facebook just announced that many of their employees who have been forced to work remotely will be told to continue working from home – the savings to the business (e.g., utilities, less office space needed) are appreciable and the work still gets done. So remote work is certainly viable. The real question is, Is it always desirable? Let’s look at some of the unanticipated consequences.
As most organizations have already experienced, working from home increases the level of cyber risk. Recent evidence from Bitdefender Labs indicates that the number of attacks and threats from cyber-criminals has increased five-fold through April.
Countries Targeted by Coronavirus-themed Malware
The threats to an organization’s data are constant, and they are compounded by working from home instead of the relatively secure office environment (Risk&Insurance.com). The possibility of data leakage, which is the unauthorized transmission of an organization’s data to someone outside, can go up significantly. Organizations may have to increase their cyber security or “cyber hygiene” practices and protocols to keep the family jewels safe from predators for WFH to continue to be successful.
WFH can provide considerable freedom for employees (business casual may have a very different meaning), and it may also cause employees to put in more time than if they worked in the office. The employer may have to develop and implement policies around disconnecting from the workplace to help employees maintain their work/life balance. Check out our video on Managing Your Remote Workforce for more strategies on that topic.
WFH can also decrease the social interaction and the spontaneous collaboration between employees that can help improve productivity and creativity, and it may also detract from the satisfaction that an employee gets from working for a particular employer. Spontaneous collaboration from chance encounters in the office can yield dramatic results – whole R&D centers have been built to foster such interactions. As our remote workforce video highlighted, managers must reinforce the company culture virtually, which may be challenging. Feelings of isolation can negatively impact productivity and job satisfaction as well, especially for extroverts who love to build relationships to succeed in the workforce.
Does WFH shift the responsibility for office space and furnishings from the enterprise to the employee? That might be a cost savings for the business. And always working at the kitchen table may induce health and wellness issues, since few kitchen tables are considered ergonomic work surfaces. Google is taking the dramatic step of giving all of their remote workers a $1,000 allowance to buy furniture and equipment needed to work from home. This sounds like a marvelous perk for WFH. Will other organizations do the same? If an employee gets such an allowance and leaves after purchasing new home office equipment, does he/she have to return it to the organization?
There can be secondary effects on the local economies if people don’t go to the office and work remotely. Thinking about the new business casual mentioned above, what happens when WFH employees buy fewer products (clothes, shoes, etc.) and services (flights, taxis, lunches out, etc.)? This negatively affects those businesses and their employees who probably cannot work remotely. Is the net effect on the overall economy positive or negative due to WFH?
So moving forward, there are new responsibilities thrust upon employers to make sure that working remotely can really work. There are more questions than answers here. What thoughts do you have on how working from home can be both viable and desirable?
KardasLarson is here to assist you with remote work strategies. Our experienced team brings best practices to the table to help you craft policies and practices that work for your organization. Contact us today and begin the conversation.