The truth about long-term WFH

Working from home went from an occasional perk to a mandate for much of the white-collar workforce across North America practically overnight this year. And after an initial period of adjustment, many of the same executives who had once resisted remote work for their employees began to vocally embrace the benefits of working at home.

They marveled at their own improved productivity—”No more commuting!” They began to tout other potential benefits to the organization: access to a wider talent pool, savings on office space, more-efficient meetings, as examples. They postulated that their own sense of productivity gains was shared by all employees.

One by one, large companies began embracing various forms of permanent WFH: Google announced WFH until July 2021. Twitter and Square are offering permanent WFH options to their employees. REI sold its HQ campus as it shifted large numbers of its people to a permanent WFH environment.

Are they making a big mistake?

A different perspective
Not everyone is so enthusiastic about long-term working at home. Research has shown that many workers feel burned out and less engaged from juggling work and home demands.

And that good news about productivity? It appears to be a function of longer hours at work. WFH has extended the average workday by two to three hours, research from NordVPN and Microsoft (paywall) has found, citing distractions at home and the increased effort required to stay connected with colleagues. Many also find that boundaries have increasingly melted away—that lunch hours and an accepted “time to call it a day” have disappeared and that video meetings just keep expanding across all hours of the calendar.

Yet it is easy to understand how executives miss this countertrend to their experiences. They are often insulated by their own comfort (well-appointed home offices, older children, a spouse or partner who stays home, and high salaries that enable expenditures on additional household support services). And remote work itself and highly structured meetings makes it more likely that they will be unaware of frustrations of employees further down the corporate ladder.

People in senior roles also tend to already have strong networks in their companies, making it easier to continue to exert influence in the organization in a remote setting. However, due to either lack of rank or tenure, people without such a network may find it challenging to build one in a decentralized team. Over time, this leads to a strengthening of existing networks, not expanding or creating new ones. Virtual meetings leave fewer opportunities for quieter team members to make personal connections or for spontaneous chitchat. These interactions, particularly between junior and senior team members, are critical in building trusted workplace relationships.

Diversity and inclusion efforts can also be hampered, as members of underrepresented groups may hesitate to speak up in virtual discussions. For people who too often feel like outsiders, remote work can exacerbate that feeling of distance.

Closing the gap
Understanding and addressing the inequities and increased challenges that most employees face while working from home for extended periods starts with investing time in active listening. Coffees, lunches, and happy hours have long been ways to connect with colleagues on a more personal level. In a remote work environment, leaders need to work harder to create an open dialogue in which workers feel comfortable sharing their real fears, concerns, and challenges.

Start by scheduling virtual one-on-one sessions to check in on people’s health and well-being. Focus on listening, not providing solutions. Here are a few questions to get you started:

How are you and your family?

Do you have the support and resources you need?

What do you miss most about working from the office?

You can also help employees better engage and raise their concerns in a safe environment by rethinking and redeploying the engagement tools you and your company already have in place. Here are some ways we see companies effectively using existing tools and networks:

Create open channels within a central communication platform (such as Slack or Yammer) to address top-of-mind topics for employees.

Incorporate partners and children into virtual forums. For example, Vox Media introduced daily virtual story time, and Cisco hosted town halls on mental health for employees and their families.

Update employee engagement surveys to reflect the current environment by incorporating questions on mental health, willingness to return to the office, and productivity.

These actions alone will not correct the imbalance of power and privilege exacerbated by COVID-19, but they are a necessary start. For those companies committed to permanent shifts to working from home, there is an obligation to think deeply about how to offset the unintended consequences of these swift and seemingly efficacious moves. What may seem like a myriad of unexpected advantages to an executive often feels entirely different to an employee in a different stage of her career.

For those companies in the midst of decisions about permanent WFH, we might add the words of the crossing guard: Look twice before you cross this road.

Source :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *