Working from home (WFH) used to be a rare privilege, limited to industries like information technology or digital marketing. Now WFH is an accepted part of the Covid 19 phenomena, a safety measure to protect employees from illness and industry from pandemic-related health care costs and employee absence.
WFH has a lot of benefits, from the big ticket items like lower transportation costs, greater privacy and increased leisure time, to the smaller perks: more comfortable clothing, less eating out and fewer restrictions on office space arrangements.
WFH also has its challenges, however. The shift was so huge and so rapid, that many companies and workers were caught unprepared for the abrupt demand for new equipment, new software and remote working techniques. The sudden loss of many sources of child care, not to mention school closings, caused many newly remote workers to be inundated with family issues as well. For many, the boundaries between work and home began to blur in unwelcome ways.
One of the biggest challenges for those who work from home can be the sudden demand for workspace. Two income households may experience conflict over who gets the home office…… assuming there is a home office. Other households may need to repurpose other spaces: the kitchen table, a corner of the bedroom, etc. This can make the space uncomfortable for both functions: work and everyday use. Add in the loss of school attendance and childcare, and home can seem a lot smaller than it once did.
While commuting time is saved, WFH can cause another, somewhat surprising, time demand: overwork. Overwork can be either employee or employer, driven. Some employees feel that they have to prove their continued relevance, particularly given the rise in unemployment. They may feel that less contact with their employer means that their work may not be as readily recognized and appreciated. Some managers feel the same way, and use WFH as an opportunity to push their workers harder, finding it difficult to trust workers who can’t be constantly observed.
WFH can also cause work communication issues. When all of your meetings are remote and carefully planned, spontaneous encounters near the water fountain or in the hallway are eliminated. It’s not as easy to insert seemingly random snippets of information about your progress on a project, or ask quick questions about challenges, when chatting through Zoom or even Office Teams. Remote communication is generally interpreted as much more deliberate and purposeful than “in person” communication. This can have serious implications for office politics.
If WFH has failed to meet initial expectations, one thing to remember is that, even if you haven’t changed jobs, your job itself has probably changed…….a lot. It’s easy to underestimate the magnitude of the change, and thus the amount of effort and stress it takes to deal with it. Look for solutions to concrete problems, such as objective measurements to demonstrate your WFH contribution to your job, or how to dual-purpose at home office space. Finally, give yourself more time to adjust. It’s only been a couple of months since Covid 19 arrived. We’re all still looking for “normal”.