Companies that survive this recent shove into telework want its benefitsâ€”including reduced operating costsâ€”to continue. Thatâ€™s why Facebook, Twitter, Google, and automaker Groupe PSA are among a growing number of businesses announcing plans to embrace remote work permanently. It doesnâ€™t hurt that numerous studies since the 1970s have found that freedom to work remotely can improve productivity, creativity, and morale. Now organizational strategists and psychologists hope that employers, armed with lessons from this shut-down, will invest in more support for remote workers. Consider a few aspects of the new work-from-home (WFH) landscape they think could emerge.
Individual control over work-station features is a trend that could be adapted and intensified for usersâ€™ homes (think height-adjustable desks and partitions). â€śSetups canâ€™t just be exported. Employers will have to let employees guide them,â€ť says Ravi Gajendran, a researcher and professor of management at Florida International University. Steps could involve establishing guiding principles for WFH environments such as a schematic for kitchen-table setups and a budget for space design. For more individualized control, Alan Hedge, professor emeritus at Cornell University, has developed the Home Office Ergonomics app, available for free at the App Store and Google Play.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna recently assured workers that they wonâ€™t be penalized if kids interrupt video callsâ€”an extraordinary acknowledgment of the strain parents face juggling work and family, says Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time: â€śUntil the pandemic, most people hadnâ€™t worked in the same space as their spouse or partner. Women were told they couldnâ€™t do it.â€ť A 2017 study by Owl Labs found that caregiving was a key reason people chose telework, so accommodating families will be important even after offices reopen. â€śFirms should consider the value proposition,â€ť Schulte says, â€śthen the old biases will lift.â€ť
A Distributed Workforce
Facebook is looking at normalizing employeesâ€™ ability to work from anywhere, but with a salary adjustment down-ward for those who leave the San Francisco Bay Area. â€śTelework was viewed as a favor to employees. Now it is an arrangement in which workers help companies manage risk and keep businesses running at reduced operating costs,â€ť says Gajendran, adding that he expects more employers to adopt a distributed workforce, with staff dispersed geographically.
Daily management of distractions remains a sticky, self-guided affair. According to Timothy Golden, an industrial and organizational psychologist and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, clashes between work and home life are inevitable: â€śIn an office, youâ€™re mentally and physically separated from family. At home, you can presumably manage workflow better, as colleagues are not stopping by your desk. But my research found family interferes more with work in a home setting.â€ť His advice: Try staggering your work schedule and those of family members for different times of day. Strike an arrangement.