Business

Working from home downsides

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees across the world had to work from home, and South Africa was no exception. While remote work allows for more flexibility, it might not be the best for business – or employees.

A Michael Page survey found that only 26% of the 200 South Africans surveyed worked from home before the pandemic. During the lockdown, this number skyrocketed to 79%.

While many people still work from home, the number has gone down post-pandemic.

A BrandMapp survey found that 40% of South Africans earning more than R10,000 a month have returned to the office following the pandemic’s surge.

However, this differs from tax bracket to tax bracket.

The survey found that almost half the employees that earn less than R40,000 a month have returned to the office full-time, while only 37% that earn more returned.

Mixed reception

For many South Africans, the shift to work-from-home has been valuable.

The Michael Page survey showed a large majority of South Africa-based professionals say their productivity either increased or stayed the same while working from home.

Of the 200 people surveyed, 63% shared that their productivity increased after transitioning into a remote work set-up due to the pandemic, while 31% said their productivity stayed the same. 

Remote working also did not lead to less motivation – in fact, surveyed employees often felt even more motivated. Job satisfaction also remained the same or increased.

However, cases like these are in the minority, and research does not support remote working’s success, said Mimi Nguyen in Time Magazine.

Nguyen is the research and development lead at Mana Search, co-founder of Mana Lab and a PhD fellow at Imperial College London.

More than not benefitting individuals, teams are often damaged by work-from-home setups.

“Remote work often breaks the mechanisms that allow a team to work together creatively,” she said. 

“Studies have found that the best creative work occurs when a team is in a state of flow or focuses its collective attention on a single problem together, known as ‘team flow’. But remote work makes it harder to keep everyone engaged in solving that problem.”

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently encouraged his employees to “get back into the office”, Bloomberg reported.

He said an early analysis of the company “suggests that engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely”. 

Impact on employees

BusinessTech reported that, due to proximity bias and presenteeism, recent data shows that people who choose remote work options are 50% less likely to be considered for promotion in their organisation.

In addition, a CNBC/Momentive Workforce survey reported that remote workers are the most likely in the US labour force to worry about being laid off and struggling to find a new job quickly.

These fears are not unfounded. Fortune recently reported that 6 out of 10 managers – of the 3,000 surveyed – said it’s more likely that remote workers will be cut first when lay-offs occur.

Given the recent uptick in layoffs at major companies, this could significantly impact remote employees.

CNBC, quoting senior economist Layla O’Kane, reported that people working remotely are more likely to be in industries facing layoffs. 

“People working remotely are more likely to be in technology, while people working in person are more likely to be in hospitality or health care,” said O’Kane.

In early 2023, Alphabet (Google) announced it would cut 12,000 jobs – more than 6% of its global workforce.

Meta cut its workforce by 13% last year – 11,000 jobs – and recently announced another 10,000 job cuts. 

Similar cuts have been seen at Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft.

The companies’ hiring sprees during the Covid-19 pandemic are a large reason for these massive lay-offs.

O’Kane explains that remote workers can also struggle to find a job after being laid off because they may have moved to places with fewer positions available, and they may not find the same flexibility at other jobs.

These companies hired aggressively during the pandemic hoping that lifestyle changes caused by Covid-19 – like remote work, e-commerce spending and video-game habits – would result in more business.

Now faced with a very different economic environment than the one they hired in, these companies have had to backtrack and lay off thousands of employees – including many remote workers.

Benefits and drawbacks

Tabled below are some of the other benefits and drawbacks of remote working:

AdvantagesDisadvantages
No commuteIsolation
Less sickness Increased home office costs
More time for fitness and hobbiesLess work/life balance
Flexible work hoursWorkplace disconnect
Work and live anywhereLess face-time with coworkers
Sources: Indeed.com, BusinessTech, New York Times

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