When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, nobody was prepared for the transformative changes it would have on the economy, digital landscape, and the broader fabric of society. Nobody escaped unscathed from the lockdowns and entire industries suffered. Those that were able to adapt to the rapidly changing work environment were able to turn the tide in their favour. From the ashes, different working models took root. One of the largest changes was the shift from working on-site to working from home.
But how has working from home affected important aspects of working life: employee trust, productivity, happiness, work-life balance?
This article explores what various research studies have found on the topic.
Work from home culture breeds distrust and dissent
While working from home may have been forced onto us due to movement control orders and social distancing protocols, the transition period was relatively seamless, with just some minor hiccups.
At the start of working from home, some slacked in the comfort of their own homes, while others burned themselves out by not having clear work-life distinctions. This led to employers implementing monitoring software to ensure that employees are holding up their end of the bargain and working without needing any supervision.
It was met with some apprehension because monitoring borderlines on spying. It also plants a seed of distrust in employees. The simple implementation of a monitoring system blatantly says that employers do not trust their employees. But can we really put the blame on employers?
Employers must take a huge leap of faith to release the reins on their business by trusting that their hired staff are doing what they are meant to be doing. When work was done collectively in the office, at least they had a general idea of what’s going on, and most employers wouldn’t begrudge a cat video here and there during working hours because employers knew that their staff are spending a majority of their time actively working.
When work from home became mandatory, employers went blind, in a sense. Add that to the understanding of the human condition – when freedom is suddenly thrust upon us, we don’t know what to do with it. Just think back to university times – it is easy to understand why employers scrambled for monitoring services, but it doesn’t mean that they enjoyed spying on their employees.
In fact, a survey done by ExpressVPN revealed that while 78% of employers use monitoring services, 83% feel uncomfortable tracking their employee’s movements.
Implementing hybrid work models to optimise productivity and happiness
One way to bridge the gap between employers and employees is by creating community. Research shows that employers that know their employees have a better level of trust and understanding.
Since working from home restrictions have lifted, many employees are reluctant to go back to the conventional 9-to-5 hours. Having had a taste of a healthier work-life balance, many would much rather resign than return to their office jobs. Therein lies another evolution for working culture: the hybrid work model, a blend between in-person and at-home work. With the hybrid work model, employees are given the option to return to the office at their own discretion.
Having an office can amplify the feeling of belonging, which is something that has been reported over the years as a strong motivator. It can also help employees detach from familial stress which can be exacerbated from working from home over long periods of time, especially if they have family commitments, whether a young child to care for or a loan they are maintaining.
At the same time, humans are social creatures, and having a space that gives employees a chance to interact with their colleagues can spark ideas or build deeper connections. Fostering relationships between employees is also a key factor in keeping a company running smoothly. When there is discord between employees, it will definitely lead to decreased productivity. Studies have demonstrated that employees that get along well with one another work better together because of the synergy and mutual respect they have for each other.
Subsequently, those that are detached from an office environment and lack any kind of bonding with their peers might find themselves alienated from the rest of the team. Communication would very likely break down over time and cause tension between those that have bonded, and their new remote team members. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to offer opportunities and mandatory team building activities to increase company productivity, which is what the hybrid working model also provides.
How the hybrid work model plays into work life balance
Work life balance is highly debatable and dependent on each individual. What people seem to misunderstand is that the balance has to be equal, but the fact is that as everyone desires different things in life, they should be able to meet their needs with the hybrid work model.
Some may prefer working from home and connecting via a cloud phone system whereas others who are more outgoing and extroverted would much rather go into the office and work their charm. Those that rather stay home can stay home as much as they like provided they meet their weekly or monthly commitments to show up in the office, whereas someone looking to escape their home life, or someone more community-oriented can go to the office as much as they like. This creates a work-life balance that a particular individual needs in order to thrive without neglecting to meet the needs of the company. As such, employers should create a flexible hybrid work model for their employees that allows options to work from home or in-office depending on each individual’s lifestyle and needs.