The 2020 pandemic pushed the world to work from home by necessity rather than convenience. This lead to new ways of getting work done, building business relationships, interacting with office colleagues, and customer service delivery models. The “Future of Work” scenario accelerated with everybody scrambling to figure out the new normal faster than ever done before. Technology progress in communication tools & infrastructure, office hardware, and security protocols got tested to the limits. With the “work from home” mode’s initial success, some organizations are dabbling in letting their employees permanently work from home.
Before the 2020 pandemic, working from home was a good option for people with disabilities, new parents, and others who were individual contributors and could work alone by their profession. This was possible only for a particular section of the working population – for others from sectors like hospitality, airline, tourism, entertainment, real estate, etc., this wasn’t possible. Work from home was never a viable option for them, considering the nature of what they do.
This article explores the long term impacts of working from home with distributed teams and everybody only connecting virtually. I do not endorse ignoring government or medical guidelines and force people to work in an office during a pandemic. The intent here is to debate and have a starting point to figure out solutions to these five factors:
It is a known fact that people who interact with each other regularly nearby are more likely to develop relationships than those who do not. The casual water-cooler conversations or cafeteria run-ins leading to informal connections across the organization come to naught when everybody works remotely from home. The same goes for the company structure behind the organization chart, which indirectly affects collective productivity. Not being in office is like disabling a platform that significantly impacts social relationships and informal networks. Walking into a physical meeting often means small personal chats before or after the meeting – this rarely happens in online virtual meetings during work from home, and relationships become formal.
Company culture for new employees
Being in close quarters with new people facilitates the expression of human emotions like empathy and collaboration. Especially true when new employees join the firm, and they start interacting with colleagues, HR team members, IT team members, and their managers. If everybody is remote and interacting virtually, the new employee has no way of imbibing the organization’s cultural fabric. They miss out on building meaningful interpersonal contacts and take much longer to figure out what values will help them succeed in the organization’s long term. The new employee may carry baggage from their previous firm regarding what to expect in the new setup – dispelling those notions becomes quite challenging for People Managers or HR personnel.
All the world’s collaboration tools cannot mimic an in-person mentoring experience, especially for college graduates on their first job. For somebody who has never been in an office before, he/she cannot fathom the difference between a corporate setup vs. university classes. When everybody is working remotely, team mentors/trainers have a hard time getting trainees to understand the seriousness of a corporate environment and focus on their tasks. On-the-job training takes longer cycles in a 100% remote working scenario.
The rules for getting successful in the sales profession are getting re-written. A salesperson suddenly does not have two critical tools that can enable successful selling, i.e., personal facetime with customers at their office and the ability to meet a customer in informal settings. Influencing customer’s decision-makers with a salesperson’s charisma, passion, and just being at the right place at the right time is not possible when everybody is working remotely. Sales processes are evolving, and the new normal in this profession is being defined every day.
Employee’s mental health
When employees work long hours from home with little or no human interaction, they feel isolated. Especially when it comes to some who quickly develop negative thoughts, working alone is not an ideal situation to be in. Office friendships fostered by people working together within physical proximity help reduce isolation, making work-life enjoyable. Employees who have family issues at home have an outlet when they go to the office. Or some who may have problems with certain colleagues at work get an outlet when they get back home.
When home and office locations are fused in terms of working, the employee has no way of leaving the baggage behind him/her during the day. Social issues of working long hours in isolation get magnified.
In Conclusion: Work from Home
Numerous research studies conclude that teams that need to innovate and pursue creative endeavors collectively can succeed only when all team members are present physically in one room or proximity. Collaboration technology companies like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams are going all out to figure out ways to simulate the office like environment at home. But they a long way away from recreating real human contact shared emotions and empathy.
Do share your experiences in the comments section on your experiences with Work from home.