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After COVID, Should You Keep Working From Home?

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Post COVID, if you are offered the opportunity to keep working from home on a long-term basis, should you take it?

“There are a lot of factors to consider,“ said Linda Trim, Director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies. 

“Many companies will no doubt offer employees a choice—one that employees could find difficult. However, research on office dynamics among partially remote workforces can offer some guidance as to the questions employees should be asking before making their decision.” 

The answers to these questions will go a long way in helping workers make the right choice for them.

Who else is going back?

This is probably the most important question. “When most people are working off-site, there isn’t a significant advantage to being in the office. Everyone is in the same boat—communicating with peers and managers on video, and doing their work in relative solitude,” Trim noted. 

“But the dynamic changes if lots of people start moving back to the office while others elect to stay home.” 

Studies have shown that employees found that they got less respect when they began working remotely and ended up being less involved in significant decisions. 

Employees on-site often have the chance to shine by contributing to decisions that aren’t their responsibility, simply because they are around and can be in on the conversations. Other employees lose out on that if they are at home.

“Many important decisions must be made quickly—how to handle an accident at a plant, a product recall or an immediate need from a client, say—and people who are on the spot naturally get more of a say,” said Trim. 

Remote workers also miss the chance to stay up-to-date about company norms or recent events, things that come from observing others and networking in real life.

Do I want promotions?

Remote workers may have a tougher time getting promoted. A study of Ctrip, a NASDAQ listed Chinese travel agency with 16 000 employees, showed that remote workers were promoted at a 50% lower rate than office present peers. 

Managers may fail to see the hours put in by people who are working from home, even when they are working longer than their office colleagues, the researchers found. 

“And bosses tend to attribute more positive personality traits and fewer negative ones to employees who spend a long time in the office. Making things even tougher, it is more difficult for remote workers to engage in ‘impression management,’ influencing how they are perceived and showing their commitment.” Trim added. 

Will I end up with worse workplace relationships?

There are some positives to being away from colleagues. Workers aren’t caught up in day-to-day office politics, for one thing, and aren’t under constant scrutiny by those around them.

But Trim warned that remote work can lead to feelings of professional and social isolation, and these feelings may be worse if their co-workers are primarily on-site.

“On the other hand, if the majority of employees work outside of the office, even going into the office can be a lonely experience with close co-workers not being there.” 

Meanwhile, a study by Gajendran and Harrison from Pennsylvania State University, showed that people who spend the majority of their time telecommuting, while their peers don’t, frequently find themselves with worse relationships at the office. And the more they work remotely, the worse it gets.

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