Working from home — an emergency solution or a new standard?

Remote working was a sign of the age of universal internet and social media. In the USA, the number of people working remotely has increased by 159 per cent in the recent 15 years. However, no one expected that remote work would become the daily routine for so many of us overnight.
Working from home — an emergency solution or a new standard?

(James G. Milles, CC BY 2.0)

The growing popularity of remote working has been one of the most characteristic symptoms of changes in the HR industry over recent years. It was fostered by the development of new technologies — according to the surveys conducted by FlexJobs in cooperation with Global Workplace Analytics, from 2005 to 2017 the number of people working remotely in the USA increased by 159 per cent. However, moving work to home, due to the coronavirus pandemic, surprised most of us. It also made us miss the office quite quickly.

Entrepreneurs passed the exam

The current situation has posed previously unknown challenges to all organizations. Certain industries have managed to react smoothly and changed the work system to remote one practically overnight.

These are organizations that were able to operate in a similar system before and their work is largely focused on the production of virtual products, i.e. above all, the IT and new technologies industry. However, people working in other fields, whose main working tool is a computer with internet access, were also able to change their workplace quickly from an office to their own apartment.

“If today’s situation had happened to us a few years ago, we would have had much greater difficulty in adapting quickly to the new conditions,” says Lucyna Pleśniar, CEO of People HR consulting company. “Systematic implementation of solutions, such as document storage in the cloud, remote access to network drives and the introduction of modern remote cooperation tools into corporate culture, enabled relatively easy application of the emergency mode. And although we didn’t have the opportunity to perform a dress rehearsal before and test new solutions on such a large scale, I think that technically, as an entrepreneur, we passed the test quite well,” she adds.

Changes will force changes

Let us not forget that the current situation, when thousands of people work at home, was triggered by external factors. Just a few weeks ago, remote working in Poland was a rare situation. On average, every third company enabled such work. It involved mainly marketing and HR personnel and IT developers.

According to the Hays Poland, data from 2018 show that almost three quarters of respondents would be willing to work remotely if they had such an opportunity. At the same time, only 14 per cent of companies participating in this survey actively encouraged employees to switch to this work model.

Besides the global economic crisis, triggered by the spread of coronavirus, a change in the work system will leave an imprint on many sectors. For example, the current situation may revolutionize the office real estate market. Some companies looking for spending cuts will decide to introduce a system of so-called hot desks, where none of the employees has an assigned workplace and each of them uses the unoccupied at a given moment work station.

This will allow a significant reduction in the demand for office space, e.g. in sales departments, whose employees had spent most of their time meeting with customers, outside their offices. Employers may also decide to implement a shift system in which each employee would work from home on selected days of the week.

In this way, a significant reduction in demand for office space may occur, the total area of which, according to the data of Poland’s central bank, NBP, already amounted to nearly 11 million square meters in 2019, and in only nine the largest Polish cities.

Maybe team work is more effective?

However, we must not forget that man is a herd animal and in the long run it would be very difficult for us to function alone. The environment and the companionship of co-workers is an important factor affecting the quality of work and life in general.

Our brains have been shaped so as to establish social contacts, create bonds, and build relationships. From the point of view of employees, in the long run the lack of social contacts can be very demotivating and can get them down.

A direct effect of the current situation will be a certain change that will take place in the area of the work system: a significant part of daily duties will be permanently transferred to virtual space. New standards may emerge, and some of the processes that are now arising quickly will stay with us for longer. However, there is no doubt that many people will be happy to return to their offices.

“The remote working system may have worked well as an emergency solution, but in the long run it takes away what we are made for. Just two weeks after the lockdown, we start to miss interpersonal contacts, being in the company of co-workers, the energy flowing from others, learning or motivating each other,” concludes Ms. Pleśniar. “Therefore, everything seems to indicate that when the situation returns to the so-called “new normality”, we will appreciate more strongly how much we benefit from being among other people and building mutual relations, also during work.”

(James G. Milles, CC BY 2.0)

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