COVID-19 has changed the way we work and learn. Work-from-home is now the accepted way of doing business. For many, it presents new and difficult challenges.
In 2020, the world has had to adjust to an alternative way of working. Work-from-home is now the standard across most countries. It will continue into the new year since COVID infections are on the rise globally and lockdown rules are in play again. Given the last decade’s technological strides, one would expect that working from home would have been a simple transition. Yet, several challenges have emerged which impact the way we work.
The Battle for Workspace
Raise your hands if you’ve had to fight for the use of the dining table these past few months. If you’re fortunate enough to have a home office or study, this doesn’t apply to you. For others, defining their workspace has become a battleground.
If multiple people are working from home, then the workspace is at a premium. Throw in a child (or two) who is home-schooled or attending online classes, and quiet spaces are a misnomer. Somewhere in the maelstrom, you might have concluded that your home is too small for your needs.
If working from home continues for a longer period, we need a new battle plan. We have to optimize the space we have since most people cannot afford to move house. It’s good and well to share a dining table if you need not make phone calls, take part in web meetings, or engage in online learning.
It isn’t easy to concentrate on your own work when someone is talking on the phone right next to you. Headphones or noise-canceling headphones may help. I used to consult in a company with an English-style telephone booth in the corner of its open-plan office. You would sit inside if you wanted to make calls, so you didn’t disturb those around you. In your home, you can create a ‘call space,’ even if it’s your bedroom or bathroom.
Balancing Work, Home, and Children
Lockdown restrictions forced people to balance working from home with increased household responsibilities. Unless you live alone, working from home involves not only reporting into the office. It includes preparing meals, household chores, helping keep your children occupied, helping your children with homework, and sometimes taking care of pets. Often within confined spaces. The stress levels during the early months of the lockdown were stratospheric and threatened some relationships.
Parents heaved a sigh of relief when some children had to go back to a physical school. This relief might be short-lived with a second wave of the virus sweeping through the world. Other children have been learning online with their own challenges. This style of learning and teaching could leave some children behind. Parents working from home have to ensure their children are coping with their educational requirements.
After the first hectic weeks of working from home, schedules and chore lists became essential coping tools. It reduced stress levels because it laid out rules and behaviors. It might be time to dust off and update those lists and schedules.
Internet Connectivity & Data Costs
Some companies have not made provision for the costs of data usage outside the office. There are costs to set up an office at home. Employees now have to pay increased data bills at the end of the month for the ‘privilege’ of working from home. A reduction in travel costs does not offset increased utility bills because of increased home occupancy. Companies, meanwhile, are saving costs because their employees are working remotely.
Wi-fi access is the key to work-from-home and study from-home success. Not all homes are digitally and technologically equipped to handle this alternative lifestyle. If you live in a remote area, then internet connectivity is a challenge.
Some universities provided every student with laptops and monthly data in South Africa to facilitate learning from home and working from home during the lockdown. University student representatives still fought for access to university campuses and dormitories. Why? Many students lived in remote areas with poor to no internet connectivity. This, coupled with electricity challenges and limited space at home, was not conducive to remote learning or teaching.
If there’s one thing we learned during the pandemic, is that society remains unequal. Technological advancements and tools have not made an equal progression through households. Have you heard of stories of children sitting on pavements close to their schools so they could get wi-fi access and continue with their studies? Now imagine teaching a child from a household that has one shared computer.
Longer Working Hours
Working from home has mounted a challenge on the normal eight-hour workday. Now that you’re at home, you’re deemed more accessible. There’s an expectation that you can work on something after your normal working hours. This makes it difficult to switch off once the working hours are over. The home-work delineation has never been more blurred.
Friends complain that they have to respond to emails and job requests on weekends. Then you have those colleagues who can only show their worth during meetings. Or those who use meetings to get their work done. Have you noticed that you’re sitting in more web meetings lately? Organizations have no plan for employees unable to adapt to working from home.
Working hours have become longer. This means that salaried employees now earn less per hour than before. Some employees feel like their organizations are holding them captive during this period. This could have negative repercussions on the employee-employer relationship post-COVID. Employees need to set boundaries with their employers to ensure continued job satisfaction and productivity.
Colleague Withdrawal Symptoms
Remote work suits certain personality types. Introverts and independent workers will thrive in this environment. The less colleague engagement and direct supervision, the more productive they become.
Working from home is challenging for those who enjoy daily interactions with their colleagues. Your colleagues may have become your second family over the years. Your social interactions got you through the day. Now, you’re unable to get your daily fix. This can affect your mental wellness.
There are ways to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Schedule a once-a-week 30-minute coffee web session with your colleagues. Use the time to check in with each other and take stock of the work situation. Help each other develop a manageable, less-stressful work-from-home environment. The more social employee will feel less alone, which will improve overall productivity.
Working from home is easier on paper. Many people have faced harsh reality checks when implementing this alternative way of work. It has increased tension levels at home on all fronts because of constant juggling acts.
The second wave of COVID infections is on the rise. So what does this mean for the future of working from home? It could be a way of life for a long period, so we need a plan to navigate this lifestyle change.