Working from home ‘a privilege’

While the labour market readies itself to respond to a ‘post-Covid’ world in which office workers will be expected to be vaccinated in order to return to work, it’s important to look into why some staff may argue that it’s better to maintain the work-from-home status quo.

According to Juliette Fourie, founder and CEO of logistics training college Metro Minds, the best approach is finding out what improves productivity.

It leads to the simplest answer, she feels, namely fewer disruptions.

“It takes our brains 21 minutes to truly refocus on what we were busy with before distracted.

“On average, disruptions and distractions take 2.3 hours of your day. At the office, most employees are working in an open-plan environment with all kinds of distractions.

“The basics of time management talk about general time wasters preventing us from being more productive. Depending on the person, a general example would be commuting to and from the office on a daily basis. This can sometimes take three to four hours out of a person’s day (not necessarily eight to five), depending on the travel distance and amount of traffic, not to mention the maintenance of vehicles and fuel costs.”

To this Fourie adds another angle, quality of life and what it means for the mental health of employees.

“For a person not having to waste time commuting to an office, the probability of starting work earlier than they’re supposed to and with fewer disruptions, is very high.

“Their time is managed by themselves, and where time can be saved on anything, it can be done.

“For instance, instead of using the weekend to rush around and run errands when it is ten times busier and takes longer to do, the work-from-home crowd will run these errands during their breaks.

“They are the ones who use a weekend for what it is for, and come out a healthier, happier, and more productive employee. Or, if a child is sick, they are at home and close by to look after them – less stress and more focus on their work.”

Providing more insight, Fourie says staffers who succeed in managing their work-from-home time generally do so through having working hours shift from the traditional eight-to-five arrangement to a more outcomes-based productivity schedule.

“Do they physically sit behind their computer from eight to five? No.

“But they are available when clients need them, they are transparent with their work progress, they are self-disciplined, and they are less stressed and more rested as they are using their commuting time and Saturday shopping time on things that release stress, improve general health and ensure better productivity.”

However, this can only be accomplished provided that the 5Es are under control – therein lies the rub.

These 5Es are exactly why managers feel staffers should return to the physical work place:

  1. Environment. Working from your bed and bingeing on Netflix cannot be productive and ergonomically good for you and your health. That is why there are no beds in a normal office space. Many employees’ environments at home are not conducive to working productively. If you have small children at home or family that you need to take care of with no separation of workspace versus home space, it could become a difficulty.
  2. Equipment. As the proverbial saying goes – you need the right tools for the right job. If the employee cannot perform their tasks from home, it would be better to require them to be in the office. Good IT infrastructure and technology is a key ingredient for productivity and working remotely.
  3. End results. Unclear goals can misdirect employees and impact on productivity. Clear objectives also mean clear performance indicators that should be measured by outcomes, not a rigid 8 to 5 work day. What is measured – time or outcome?
  4. Engagement. Productivity can suffer due to lack of human engagement and being able to explain something face to face. Trust and relationships are built in between meetings and workstations – not on virtual calls. For some employees, working alone is not conducive to this. Their team inclination is higher than individual inclination and will impact on their productivity.
  5. Ethic. Not everyone has a good work ethic and self-discipline. If they don’t have it at home, they won’t even have it at the office.

Fourie concludes that the work-from-home or return to the office debate is not an easy decision to make, especially for companies with a diverse workforce.

“It is not fair to punish the ones working from home, producing the best results of their career, to go back to the model that creates barriers in their productivity.”

Ultimately, it needs to be understood that working from home is not a right, but rather a privilege or added benefit, she says.

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