Volunteer Label writer Rebecca Pearson reflects on the work from home setup; one of the many ‘new normals’ that the pandemic threw at us back when it all began in 2020. While there may be some logistical benefits, is the permeance of this new work environment unrealistic?
Before the pandemic hit, working from home was often a contested topic. How would companies manage their employees’ productivity? How would the workplace function successfully? Would ‘teamwork’ still be a thing? However, since COVID-19, the bustling ‘workplace’ has become a thing of the past – a mirage-like space that exists now only as a distant memory for many employees. Whilst all changes bring their own benefits and downsides, is post-pandemic life characterised not only by ‘working from home’, but living at work?
In April 2020, 86% of people that had started doing some or all of their work from home did so because of the pandemic. With some companies now looking to sell their office space, it seems that working from home is promptly being swept into a state of the ‘new normal’. It will likely remain this way for some time – especially for working environments that can afford some leniency around the extent of their in-person working hours. For many businesses, leaving behind the office space could mean less money paid towards upkeeping a working environment. Commuters may save money, stress and time spent on travelling to their workplace – and in saving commuter time, employees may be able to use this time to get more sleep, spend more time with family and attain a more comfortable working environment. All of this, plus even reduced rates of pollution as a result of minimised traffic, makes working from home a very viable long-term prospect.
However, whilst the pandemic could have served as an opportunity through which to decentralise our existing working habits and destructive ‘hustle culture’, many have found that unreasonable ‘working from home’ expectations are creating an impossible workload. Downsides to a work-from-home setup could include less exercise or physical activity, less interaction with colleagues which could lead to less productivity and more workplace misunderstandings. There is also a risk of severe loneliness – particularly for those who live alone. And it is extremely hard for new employees to bond with existing employees, and for them to integrate themselves within their working environment when the traditional ‘workplace’ no longer exists. For new graduates, as well as anyone currently on the job market, the prospect of minimal social interaction is a daunting one. A virtual screen is too far removed from normality to provide a sustainable, enjoyable and sociable work-life balance.
There is also a risk of employees being judged by their home ‘background’ on live-call platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and meeting interruptions are becoming more commonplace with children and pets both featuring. But there are also more severe repercussions of working from home for some individuals. It is assumed that everyone has a safe and comfortable space from which to work, but the reality is that some may have to work from the kitchen table. Furthermore, others that may be less able, wealthy or tech-savvy may have worse broadband or cameras. Shining a nuanced light on the working from home expectation begins to reveal its cracks.
For many, working from home has also seen the merging of workplace and home space boundaries. The workplace has seeped into home life and, with unsociable working hours and demands, an individual may find themselves put under a stress which did not exist pre-COVID. With such a lack of easy communication between members of a workplace, those dealing with the mental health implications of a work-from-home setup are often left with their employees not knowing that they are struggling. And, with less opportunity to interact, or to remove oneself from the working environment (which now doubles as ‘home’) working from home could be a catalyst for the dangerous slippage into a poorer working environment – potentially increasing loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression.
With a gradual normality starting to return, some companies may switch to a hybrid setup of working from home combined with the traditional workplace environment. Some companies are also considering trialling a ‘4-day work-week’ – an opportunity to redesign modern working habits which could begin to topple some of the existing expectations of what a work-life balance looks like. So, whilst there are benefits to working from home, many sectors and employees are hoping that it will soon be a choice, rather than an obligation.
Header by Label Head of Design Christos Alamaniotis