When I joined a new organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I had to brace myself for the new reality. Remote working had already become commonplace across the world. Job interviews, hiring, orientation, meetings, each aspect of an organisation had become virtual. For people like me, who were starting a new job in the middle of the pandemic, the new normal was even more absurd.
I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my colleagues at all. But, after almost one and a half years since the pandemic forced workplaces across India and the rest of the world to switch to remote working, many organisations are mulling a return to the office.
As the vaccination drive is underway in the country, many organisations are bound to follow suit. While recent predictions about the pandemic’s third wave have caused further uncertainty regarding the possibility of a full-fledged return to the office, discussions around the hybrid work model—which enables employees to work from office and home—are also underway.
This has led to a new discussion: remote working versus work from office, which one is better? Having worked remotely for over a year, many employees are hesitant to go back to the offices. The very thought of wading through traffic to reach the office scares many and they would rather prefer to continue working from home. Meanwhile, some feel that remote working has created issues in striking the work-life balance, which is why they may want to return to offices. Amid such a polarised scenario, what is the road ahead for workplaces? Here are a few observations that I have gauged through my experience as a remote worker.
No more traffic woes
Traffic was always the biggest buzz-killer for me before the pandemic. I remember how I used to leave early to avoid peak hours and reach office on time. I would desperately hope for unexpected traffic snarls—or sometimes technical glitches in the metro—to not cause delay in my commute to the office. But no matter what I did, I lost several hours being stuck in traffic jams.
Thanks to remote working, now the need for commuting to the workplace was eliminated. I no longer had to dread going through the harrowing ordeal of commuting on jam-packed roads or experience the ear-shattering noise of vehicles. While staying at home, I could finally time my mornings efficiently and spend more time planning my day or engaging in a quality meditation session.
Boost in savings
Since I no longer had to commute to the office, I saved up on the expenses that would be consumed by the daily office commute. I also realised the extra costs, such as spending money on buying office wear, ordering meals, snacks and refreshments among other miscellaneous expenditures, ate a significant chunk of my earnings. Now, I could save a lot more money and use it for my personal needs and investments.
Not everything about remote working is as lucrative as one would imagine. One of the biggest disadvantages of remote working, especially for new employees, is adapting and learning to the new rhythm. The work from office model makes it a lot easier for new employees to settle in and learn by watching their peers and be guided by them. However, when employees join a new workplace remotely, it poses several challenges such as learning and adapting to the aspects of their job, especially the processes and organisational framework.
A major aspect of work from office culture is the scope for collaboration. Every workplace thrives on teamwork, which requires seamless coordination between the employees and their managers. Due to remote working, this sense of collaborative working has gone missing, as employees work in isolation from their homes or other personalised locations.
The annoying technical issues
The most annoying aspect of virtual communication is the network and technical issues. The background noises, echoes, and lags cripple the whole experience of virtual discussions. But in the office, you don’t have to worry about spending hours on long calls. You can reach out to your colleagues and superiors in case of any doubts, questions or to bounce ideas without having to schedule a call.
While working from home, you miss the chance of building camaraderie with your colleagues especially if you’re new to the job. Even studies have backed this observation. According to a report by ADP Research, based on data from 9,000 workers in the USA, “significantly more on-site workers (70 percent) say they have a strong feeling of connection with their teammates than remote workers do (64 percent).”
Is a hybrid working model the way ahead?
While we can’t predict when the pandemic will end, both employers and employees could attempt to strike a balance between remote and work-from-office models. The hybrid model may require employees to work in the office for two-three days and the remainder from home. That is a doable option, where both flexibility and productivity won’t get jeopardised, employees won’t constantly rue the missing human touch and teamwork, and there will be more clarity in communication.
The hybrid working model may also benefit employees’ career growth. The same ADP report suggests that “hybrid workers also have a better perception of their career opportunities as they relate to their manager.” It further mentions: “67 percent of hybrid workers agree that their manager actively encourages their career advancement, versus only 49 percent of on-site workers.”
Better career opportunities, enhanced workplace productivity, improved employee satisfaction and culture, and a better work-life balance are some of the perks that a hybrid model offers. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt to put on our best office wear for a few days in the week while we spend the rest of the days in the usual caveman-esque mode. Pandemic or not, the slob-chic style is here to stay.