Remote work, once considered a far-fetched idea, has suddenly become a reality for many due to various COVID-19 restrictions. Several companies, especially tech companies like Apple and Microsoft, have adapted to this mode of working for their employees. Even as we get closer to in-person interactions once again, many still find it nice to work from home, and hope to continue to do so even as things get back to normal. However, remote working has an equal number of advantages and disadvantages, so we should not form conclusions based on immature data.
Theoretically, remote working could benefit workers in many ways. Different workers have different work habits, so some workers weren’t able to be as productive in a rigid office environment. However, the pandemic inadvertently made it so non-traditional workers thrived. Because their bosses could not as rigidly scrutinize them, workers were allowed to complete tasks at their own pace in far more comfortable environments. Thus, remote working in this scenario would bring the best out in workers and increase productivity.
Companies that seem content to let their workers work indefinitely from a remote place will also get rid of renting or buying office spaces in the future. This newly freed part of the budget could be used for other meaningful tasks, or even could be used to increase worker pay. This could potentially benefit cities as well, as it would be easier to navigate areas with less office workers present.
However, remote working is, unfortunately, not made for every worker in every industry. Our economy still consists of manufacturing jobs, and there are some scenarios that require workers to attend an office. In those cases, not everyone would be able to reap the benefits of remote working.
Even with all of this in mind, there are still numerous disadvantages to remote working, which have become slowly more apparent as we have gotten used to working outside an office.
Offices were created in order to better detach our private lives from our working lives. It would not be hard to speculate that another crisis awaits us when workers will long for a life where work and private affairs are separated. Offices also help increase engagement between colleagues, which can make it so they can receive support and criticism at critical steps. Without these interactions, the growth of an individual employee will certainly suffer.
Less engaged workers can also make it harder for them to, say, form unions. Because everyone would work in a relatively secluded environment, unions would be less capable of demanding a living wage and other benefits. Company owners may perhaps better sympathize with unions as they have a more concrete link to their employees. It may be far easier, then, to ignore worker calls for collective benefits when said workers largely exist behind screens.
There is also an assumption with remote working that all employees have a private connection to the Internet. This is especially the case for tech companies, as day-to-day tasks require sensitive data to be interchanged via email. Addressing these cybersecurity concerns may end up costing a lot more in the long run than merely renting an office space.
Jumping to conclusions based on COVID’s makeshift work environments can totally backfire. Only a detailed, protracted and patient study over a certain period of time can indicate whether working remotely can be effective. We should also look more into the benefits of a hybrid work environment, which would do a better job in working out the problems with going fully remote.