The New Great Debate – to Work From Home or the Office?
Authored by Ayesha Rajan, Research Analyst at Vikriti Management Consulting
The Covid-19 pandemic forced offices to shut and employees to adapt to a new style of work. Instead of conference rooms, people had Zoom meetings and instead of a lunch break to the cafeteria, people walked to their fridge. The lines between work and home became blurred for many people and at the beginning of the stay at home orders in the United States, we saw people desperate to get out of their homes and back into the office. However, as people got used to the new normal, many have come to appreciate the benefits and flexibility of working from home such as saving money and time commuting to work and having more family time. As offices begin to reopen many people will prefer working from home as opposed to returning to their office or would like to see some sort of happy medium between the two options. In this article, we will explore how companies can tackle this issue to strike a balance between productivity and employee satisfaction.
The New York Times has looked into this topic and found from a Gallup survey that “almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely [as much as possible]” after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace.” Given that very few companies have reported decreases in productivity due to work from home, this should be an avenue that businesses explore for the sake of their employees. Employees can benefit greatly from working at home by avoiding commutes which “increase(s) stress, [exposure to…] pollution and [incidents of ] respiratory problems,” and that working from home, on the other hand, shows “increased reports of wellness” and “less cases of illness” (Cramer). There are also added benefits that comes from the time saved commuting to work or to shuffling in between meetings such as being able to spend more time with family and looking after one’s health. The benefits of working from home extend to employers too if they are able to lower their cost of rent and utilities due to fewer employees in the office and possibly a smaller office footprint.
However, there are many people who find an office environment to be much more conducive to productivity that would struggle with working from home. For example, many employees with children or pets might find their home environment too chaotic to be productive and working from an office can boost time management skills. Additionally, close proximity to coworkers can make collaborations more efficient, increase opportunities for networking and boost social behavior skills.
One option people have considered for coming back to the office is to take different shifts. Gensler has suggested that employees have staggered shifts either throughout the day or throughout the week (Gensler). This way employees can have a little more flexibility in deciding how and when they would like to dedicate their office time. Research Gate published a study that sought to answer if telecommuting was a better option for employees and found that job satisfaction increased with each work from home hour up to 15 hours per week (Golden). This suggests that a happy medium of 2-3 days in the office may be the best option for productivity and well-being.
Ultimately, the preference of working from home or from an office is a personal choice and different people will have varying degrees of comfort with each option. What is enlightening is that people have thought for years and years that commuting to and from work five days a week was just a way of life but Covid-19 pushed us out of our comfort zones to see if there were other ways to conduct business. In the digital age, this new way of life has succeeded and can continue to succeed in the years to come. With many employees enjoying the benefits of working from home while maintaining the same levels of productivity, this may be the new normal for our work life. The critical takeaway will be how companies embrace this knowledge and update their policies to take advantage of benefits this new flexibility while planning for the downsides. With any new way of working there are always consequences, companies will need to be proactive in their planning processes to gain the advantages and mitigate the risks.
Coleman, Cindy. “10 Considerations for Transitioning Back to Work in a Post-COVID-19 World: Dialogue Blog: Research & Insight.” Gensler, 20 Apr. 2020, www.gensler.com/research-insight/blog/10-considerations-for-transitioning-back-to-work-in-a-post.
Cramer, Maria, and Mihir Zaveri. “What If You Don’t Want to Go Back to the Office?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/business/pandemic-work-from-home-coronavirus.html.
Golden, Timothy D. “ The Impact of Extent of Telecommuting on Job Satisfaction: Resolving Inconsistent Findings.” ResearchGate, Apr. 2005, www.researchgate.net/publication/228376781_The_Impact_of_Extent_of_Telecommuting_on_Job_Satisfaction_Resolving_Inconsistent_Findings.