If there are two words that can best describe the current COVID-19 pandemic, it would be GLOBAL DISRUPTOR. In March last year, the pandemic caused panicked quarantine lockdowns in efforts to halt the spread of the disease, which nearly caused the global economy to grind to a halt.
By October 2021, a joint statement by the WHO, ILO, FAO, and IFAD was released, outlining the dire state of the world:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work. The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty… Millions of enterprises face an existential threat. Nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Informal economy workers are particularly vulnerable because the majority lack social protection and access to quality health care and have lost access to productive assets. Without the means to earn an income during lockdowns, many are unable to feed themselves and their families. For most, no income means no food, or, at best, less food and less nutritious food.”
However, despite this dire outlook, the global economy is slowly bouncing back. This is not because of the easing of lockdowns and instead imposing them during sudden rises in COVID-19 cases in specific regions. Nor is it because of the current vaccine rollout.
What is presently happening is that more and more companies are making the switch to work from home (WFH), a trend which began as early as the 1990s before COVID-19. In 2018 alone, it is estimated that there are 4.3 million remote workers in the U.S., accounting for 3.2 percent of the entire American workforce. With the current pandemic, 71 percent of Americans are on WFH status, with 54 percent state that they wish to continue working from home after the outbreak ends.
The Benefits of the Work From Home Revolution
Why has the WFH revolution been such a game changer in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic? Whereas before employers and their fulltime employees don’t see WFH as “real work” and have even looked down on freelancers, now that they have experienced WFH for themselves, they have come to appreciate the benefits of the WFH revolution and would like to continue it permanently or as a hybrid setup.
Let us take a look at some of the benefits of the WFH revolution:
1) It eliminated the lengthy, time-consuming and exhausting daily commute to and from the office. This meant that employers and employees alike now have more time to devote to their work and personal lives.
2) Greater productivity. Again, this can be attributed to the added hours caused by the elimination of the daily commute.
3) Unexpected savings. Employees now no longer have to pay for costly fuel, public transportation fare, dry cleaning and laundry bills (for those who wear office uniforms or suits/ties), food expenses, and daycare services (for those with kids).
4) Real estate savings and profits. With fewer employees going to the office, companies can save on their leases by renting smaller office spaces. Those that own actual buildings can rent out their office spaces to other businesses and see profits.
5) Greater job satisfaction. Employees report being happier at their jobs while WFH. This is due to the fact that the employee is less stressed from the demands of badgering bosses and difficult co-workers.
6) WFH is environment friendly. Changes in human behavior as a result of the pandemic has led to reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, slower deforestation rates, and improved water quality.
7) Better work life balance. WFH enables employees to have a better work life balance. They don’t have to absent themselves from work to bring their kids to a doctor or if they are taking care of a sick elderly parent.
The Disadvantages of the WFH Revolution
While WFH offers a number of benefits, there were noted disadvantages as well, such as the following:
1) Greater potential for burnout. With longer work hours, employees are experiencing the symptoms of burnout, which in turn lead to reduced productivity.
2) Loneliness and isolation. Many former in-office employees have reported feeling lonely, depressed, and other feelings of isolation while WFH. Add the persistence of COVID-19 and other negative news in various media only aggravates employees’ already suffering mental health.
3) Difficulty in achieving work life balance. Some employees have reported experiencing difficulties in separating their work from their personal life, as they juggle professional obligations and household chores.
4) Never-ending work. There is the temptation to work more than necessary. This is particularly driven by the fear of possible layoffs if they don’t deliver more work than they usually do when still working in the office.
The WFH Revolution: Long Term Challenges
At present, 16 percent of companies worldwide have gone 100 percent remote. Others have chosen to adopt a hybrid setup, with employees going to the office on certain days and then WFH on the other days of the week. It was also noted that the highest numbers of remote workers are in the fields of healthcare (15 percent), technology (10 percent), and financial services (9 percent). Remote work was also observed to be more common in cities with high-income levels.
However, while there is a push for WFH, there are vital industries that require the physical presence of workers in the workplace. Good examples are workers in the following industries:
- Food service
- Cleaning and maintenance
- Personal care industries
These middle- to low-income workers don’t have the option for remote work and are even at significant risk of catching the COVID-19 virus. In this alone, it is evident that there is a class divide between higher-income WFH workers from their lower income counterparts. Definitely, something must be done not only to improve the incomes of these workers, but also ensure their health safety.
It is projected that the WFH revolution can promote gender equality and diversity. This is a projection that may happen for the long term since hiring of remote workers will now be based on skills and talents and not be hampered by a person’s gender, color, or presence of a disability.
Last but not least, there is a need for better mental health monitoring among WFH employees. Companies should not only provide mental health services to their employees, especially those who are experiencing depression and symptoms of burnout, but also take the necessary steps to ensure that they are not overworked. Greater productivity should not sacrifice an individual’s overall health and well-being.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still far from over, the WFH revolution continues to be a work in progress. As socioeconomic experts, world leaders, and company executives observe the outcomes of this global “experiment” on remote work, they should continue to assess the effectiveness and disadvantages of WFH, not only on the world economy, but also on the individual worker.