What about working from home?

Over the past year, many of us worked from home, on a scale never seen before. The peak was in April 2020, when, according to a large sample of HR services company Attentia, 41% of employees in our country were teleworking. That was during the first lockdown. In November, teleworking was made compulsory again, resulting in another small 33% of white-collar workers teleworking. For management and executives, this percentage even rose to 40% during this period. What have we learned from these exceptional moments?

Working from home obviously has a psychological impact on employees. In 24 hours, we have suddenly switched to a fundamentally different way of working, “du jamais vu”! And that has its consequences. Let us first try to put ourselves in the employee’s shoes. IT consultancy firm Capgemini carried out global research into this at the end of 2020. This shows that homeworking can become a permanent feature, at least if five major concerns of employees are met.

The idea of always having to be online puts unhealthy pressure on them. This is what 56% of those surveyed complain about. According to them, this leads to a feeling of stress under the surface and a risk of burn-out. Even with the strict digital monitoring and checking of some employers, it isn’t easy. Excessive micro-management, in the opinion of most people. Every mistake is seen and, if necessary, punished. A small majority also has the impression that teleworking can stand in the way of promotion. Newcomers, on the other hand, say it is difficult to get to grips with company values, because they cannot do enough informal networking via the digital channels. Moreover, almost everyone complains about the latter. And the internal challenges at work no longer only come from colleagues in the office, but from all over the company. This is certainly true in international companies, where employees are allowed to work from anywhere as long as results are achieved.

And what do employers think about teleworking today? There we hear different versions. Recent research by the National Bank and Attentia shows that employers mainly see a negative impact on productivity. Other sources tell us that employers see an increase in productivity and count on being able to keep some of it in the post-Corona era. There is a consensus among them that a hybrid and flexible approach may become the model of the future, with a proportional distribution between office and remote work. The office will then become more of a meeting place. The feeling of professional connection will depend on how we can deal with new working rituals and new digital communities. Something tells me that the generation of Coronaists (born in the twenties of this century) will know how to deal with this perfectly in the future. So, another quarter of a century of waiting… Already now companies are looking for a safe haven to work in the knowledge that health or economic crises are (or will be) coming.

Finally, let us not forget that working from home has a huge impact on traffic jams and CO2 emissions. Socially, working remotely has enormous advantages. In many companies (at least those that were less affected by the Corona pandemic), we notice that the environmental indicators look a lot better, and in a few months they have fallen back to values that were hardly thought to be reached within a few years. The fact that the travel and fuel bills were falling drastically has now also become apparent. Even sick leave does not seem to suffer, at least in the services sector. So when it comes to the question of how things stand at the moment with working from home, the answer is largely positive. However, there is still a long way to go to get remote work really established, and not just as a solution to temporarily tackle a crisis. We will see, said the blind man…

(Kris Poté, Vice President Capgemini, 4/1/2021)