Organisations are at a cross-road with respect to Work from Home (WFM) with various arguments for and against. In this article, we shall look at the events leading to the current situation, argument for and against, and steps organisations could take in deciding the best option available to them. Whilst some organisations want employees to work from home permanently, others want them to return to the office and others want a combination of both referred to as hybrid.
The result of the return to workplace global survey conducted by Ipsos for World Economic Forum in June 2021 across 29 countries revealed that 76% of those surveyed were working more from home as a result of COVID-19, 35% preferred to work completely from home/work from home more than they used to be and 33% preferred to work completely away from home/work from home less than they used to. 30% of the people surveyed said they strongly or somewhat agreed that they will consider looking for another job given the same salary and responsibility if required to return to the office full time.
New York Times of 17 May 2022 reported that Apple which directed its staff to return to office suspended the directive after some of its staff in a published letter called on the executives to allow for hybrid and flexible work schedule, that was after a top executive of the organisation resigned over the directive as reported by the New York Post of 9 May 2022. Elon Musk, Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer who did not learn from this reversal has directed everyone at Tesla to spend a minimum of 40 hours a week in the office according to Bloomberg of 1 June 2022.
Before COVID-19 lock-down in 2020, employees commuted daily to and from office and those who wanted to work from home obtained special permissions which was temporary in nature. I recall a staff in my office that worked specific number of days in a week from home because she had children requiring special needs which was factored into her remuneration. Several of her colleagues frowned at the situation which although, was not made known openly made some people uncomfortable. With the COVID-19 outbreak and everyone required to work from home, many of us thought it was going to be temporary. The rest is history.
During the crisis, some staff were required to report to the office with the permission of senior executive management and relevant government agencies. Special permission was issued to those exempted from the lock-down to report to office. Jobs were classified as essential and non-essential with those employees whose services were considered as non-essential required to work permanently from home. This classification led to dissatisfaction amongst those staff whose roles were classified as non-essential either because they wanted to go to the office or because they believed their services were not valued by their organisation.
With the lifting of some of the lock-down restrictions, some staff were allowed to return to the office. As the lock-down has been lifted in several countries, the debate ranges on as some employees want to return to office whilst others do not want to return to office. Some employees want to work from office during specific days of the week.
Most organisations lost revenues as a result of low demand for goods and services by consumers during lock-down. At the same time, it was beneficial to some organisations who saved cost on rent, electricity, water and other cost associated with office maintenance, although some also incurred additional cost in the provision of computers and data connections for their staff to enable them work from home.
On the part of staff, it resulted in additional cost on electricity, water and other cost associated with house maintenance. Some employees also suffered from mental health due to confinement at home. On the positive side, most employees were able to spend more time with their loved ones, saved on cost and time of commuting to and from the office. Stories were also told of employees who worked two jobs.
It is in view of all of the above that both organisations and employees are engaging in work from home debate. Some organisations want employees to return to the office whilst others are implementing work from home some days of the week. Similarly, some employees prefer to work from home and others prefer to return to the office.
Factors organisations should consider in deciding on the best option
There is no silver bullet in this debate as each organisation will have to decide what will work best for them taking into account the following:
- Nature of business of the organisation. As an example, it will not be practical for staff of a manufacturing company to work from home whilst a technology or financial institutions could embrace hybrid.
- To accommodate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), organisations might consider allowing employees with special needs to work from home.
- Impact of work from home on productivity and mental health of employees.
- Access to infrastructure by employees in terms of power and connectivity.
- Information security of the organisation’s information if employees are to work from home.
- Compliance issues with respect to safety, labour and tax laws.
Argument for work from home
- Cost savings for organisations from office maintenance
- Cost savings for employees from commuting to and from office
- Increased productivity.
- Employees ability to spend more time with their loved ones
- Environmental benefits to the world from less cars on the road resulting in less pollution.
- Emergence of new industries such as online sales leading to employment creation.
Argument against work from home
- Decreased productivity
- Mental health challenges of employees from confinement to their homes
- Increase cost of home maintenance.
- Cost incurred on home maintenance not allowable for tax leading to additional tax burden on the employees.
- Employees breaching employment agreements by working for more than one organisation without the knowledge of the employer.
- Closure of business that rely on the patronage of employees that work from office leading to unemployment.
What is clear is that organisations will continue to adjust their approach to WFM as the situation demands. To help in the decision making, they should:
- Carry out an analysis of productivity and performance data available to them prior to and during COVID-19 to make informed decision taking into account the nature of their business.
- Carry out a survey of employees to determine their work preference.
- A combination of available data and what employees prefer should inform the final decision.
Relevant government agencies would also have to consider changes to tax laws that will enable employees claim for addition cost incurred as a result of work from home.