A Year On – Recounting the Challenges of Working Remotely

Monaah M Shuklla

2020 was an unprecedented year in the history of telecommuting. According to Gartner, 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home due to Coronavirus.

We would like to believe that if popular sitcom Friends had an episode dedicated to this phenomenon, it would be something along the lines of – “The One Where Everyone Workedfrom Home.”

Work from home paints a rosy picture, especially on stock photos and social media.

Think of an immaculate desk, a peaceful green corner overlooking the vast expanse, all tasks neatly lined up on sticky notes, and having a cup of cappuccino. Working in this setup is dream-like.

Truth be told, working from the home’s confines during lockdown (at least in the initial days for some) was more complicated than usual for most.

Several professionals who were already living alone went into more profound isolation.The ones with young children had to juggle between taking care of their schedules and managing work. The absence of daycare and school coupled with mandatory self-isolation mode only made matters worse.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There were several challenges as a result of remote working, which surfaced in 2020. In no particular order, these are:

Fear of Missing Out

In 2020, the search interest related to “team-building” on Google was over 9%, depicting people’s struggle to adjust to the New Normal. This comes as no surprise. When people sign up to work with a company, they often seek a great work culture. This includes working with team membersor, say, regular team outings and water-cooler moments. Employees who were not used to working in isolation started experiencing the fear of missing out. They couldn’t turn to their colleagues for support when they felt stressed out or overwhelmed.

The lack of face-to-face communication left them dissatisfied and led to declining psychological well-being. According to Buffer, 19% of remote employees reported loneliness as their biggest challenge. Increased workloads and burnouts from back-to-back virtual meetings further added to their woes.

Motivation Took a Hit

Remote working is an excellent alternative for self-motivated individuals. But for others, the arrangement proved to be counterproductive, mainly because they missed theoffice buzz. Keeping this in mind, web apps such as Sound of Colleagues sprang into action, offering ambient office noise that helped push productivity for those who missed their office’s daily humdrum.

That aside, situations such as the lack of rewards and incentives, micromanagement, and missing team spirit, led to a massive dip in motivation for remote workers in 2020. 

Distractions Galore

Compared with the standard office cubicle, a home office has many distractions. The chaos in their surroundings makes it difficult for employees to focus on their tasks.A survey by Glassdoor revealed that about 32% of employees say watching TV is a top distraction when working remotely, followed by 27% who say child care is a huge distraction.

The bell rings in the middle of an important call. The neighboring dog barks during ongoing Zoom meetings. The background noises were commonplace andamplified by the lack of soundproof workspaces.

Fragmented Communication

Communication is a significant obstacle when employees work from their homes. There may be a dime a dozen tools and technologies that facilitate communication. Still, 20% of remote workers identified communication as an obstacle.Moreover, about 50% of new remote workers reported technology issues and virtual meeting glitches, which added to their frustration. For them, a centralized workspace was more convenient for facilitating simple communication.

No Work-Life Balance

Lack of work-life balance was another challenge for remote workers. Even with a great deal of planning and discipline, things didn’t go as per their schedule.

With massive workloads to take care of, some of them started taking frequent breaks to manage their personal tasks and then get back to work. That itself stretched the working hours till late, leading to severe burnouts. For example, many workplaces introduced ‘Lunch and Learn,’ which were programs and training events scheduled during the employees’ lunch break.

Simply put, there was no line between personal and professional spaces anymore.

Ergonomic Woes

Lack of a proper workspace added to health issues for telecommuters. A post on ILO states that – Human Factors/Ergonomics (HF/E) is an essential element in the management of work during crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the pressing question is – how many remote workers had access to ergonomic furniture at their homes? They were either using bean bags, couch or bed and working for extended periods with no one watching. This, coupled with long stretches of inactivity, led to increased health risks.

Heightened Expenses

While working from home cut down the commute and other expenses, it led to a surge in costs. Think of electricity, internet bills, investment in tech gadgets such as webcams or headsets, or new furniture to set up a home office. All these are important for increasing productivity but come at a price. Some companies did reimburse the expenses for their employees either partially or in whole. But those who didn’t get the costs paid for had their budget going for a toss.

Added Risk of Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to the use of various devices, systems, applications, services, or software without approval from a company’s IT department. Cloud-based applications and services have led to an increase in this phenomenon, which also increases cybersecurity risks.

That said, not all companies could ensure that their employees had access to the right equipment and technology to carry out their assignments in a safe and secure environment. They lacked asset management tools to answer what all applications were permissible for the employees and how they could use them. The lack of IT supervision and different internet networks further aggravated the issues.

Is Hybrid Workplace Model the Way Forward?

A hybrid workplace model combines the best aspects of remote work and in-office work. Employees can be given the freedom to come to work or choose to telecommute. When a firm opts for a hybrid working model, it can have one or more office spaces, where its workforce can regularly visit. They can decide on the capacity. As opposed to a completely remote work model, this can solve some of the challenges described above. This flexible shift to work culture is going to stay for the next few years. It will be an exciting opportunity for both firms and employees, offering nothing less than a positive impact.

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