As employers and offices alike strive to get offices open and follow pandemic protocols, it might be easy to assume that working as we used to is the best way. For team leaders and managers, the disruption of normal work can leave them feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with half-empty offices and Zoom meetings.
"Some leaders can feel a sense of loss and disarray when a change outside their control disrupts rituals they've come to rely on," writes management consultant Liz Kislik in the Harvard Business Review. "And they may unknowingly project their discomfort onto your team."
Kislik, who works with Fortune 500 companies and has taught at New York University, believes that most businesses can find a balance between employee comfort and business needs.
"Focus on what your leaders care about and find ways to show that remote work is beneficial to the company," Kislik says. This includes benefits of working from home, like retaining skilled employees who might otherwise have to leave or recruiting locally unavailable talent.
In fact, 'WFH' as it is now colloquially known, has been shown to boost productivity and enable employees to work in much less stressful environments than traditional workplace culture. A 2019 survey done by Airtasker surveyed over 1000 employees, 505 of who worked from home and found that WFH employees spent 1.4 more days working every month, or 16.8 more days every year. They were also healthier and happier, the study claimed.
In addition to gains in mental health, commuters also saved an average of $4500 on commuting to and from work. However, no significant difference was noted between the distraction levels in either group, the researchers said.
Distractions and lack of formality in work from home environments are a source of worry for employers who lack control in their employees' homes. Kislik advises compromising with employer sentiments on this factor.
"An emphasis on formal respect and personal interest can mitigate some leaders' concern that employees aren't taking their work seriously when they're at home," she writes. "…Employees may feel that this is inauthentic and unnecessary under the circumstances, but it's similar to creating the right impression for a big pitch."
While both employers and employees struggle to find a balance between their work-life and life itself, communication and diplomacy will go a long way in a world permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. WFH is not going away anytime soon. Adjusting to the pulse of a new life is essential even as offices re-open and vaccines bring some hope to stymied public life.