The many benefits of WFH | Sunday Observer

The many benefits of WFH

28 November, 2021

The Covid pandemic turned our lives upside down, more or less. Suddenly, we could not do many of the things that we took for granted, from going to work to travelling to far-flung places in the company of friends and relatives. We also had to learn a whole heap of new concepts from social distancing to wearing face masks, though the latter has been anyway practised in some South East Asian even before the pandemic hit.

It would not be wrong to say that the workplace was fundamentally altered as a result of the pandemic. First of all, no one could access the workplace unless it was engaged in essential services (sanitation, ports, airports, hospitals and media) as harsh lockdowns were imposed. Most workplaces had to be shut down as a result.

New concept

Yet, most employers realised that the work of offices should not and could not be completely stopped, even amidst the pandemic-induced lockdown. Hence the concept of Working From Home (WFH) was born. Some companies had always allowed some form of WFH, but this is the first time that the concept as well as the phrase (WFH) entered the mainstream and public consciousness. Granted, not every employee could WFH, even if he or she wanted to. One ought to have a desktop or laptop computer or at least a smartphone and a reliable 4G signal/Wi-Fi connection to work from WFH.

Moreover, not every job can be done from home. A garment factory worker cannot possibly work from home – indeed, this is one reason why these factories were allowed to run to a limited extent even during the lockdowns. On the other hand, some jobs such as accounting and the job of this writer – journalism – can easily be done from the comfort of one’s home. (Though for a reporter, there is nothing like going out and meeting people to get insights and stories).

Online meetings

WFH also put a stop to another common workplace practice – endless meetings. Most of these meetings serve no useful purpose in the end. But it is a fixture in many offices. Fortunately or unfortunately for employees, virtual meeting platforms already existed well before the pandemic. Their use just exploded during the pandemic. For example, Zoom was a relatively unheard of company that offered online meetings. Yet, just six months into the pandemic, it became a household word, having seen an over 300 percent increase in traffic. Companies in fact became over enthusiastic about online meetings, leading to phrases such as Zoom fatigue (tiredness brought about by participating in too many non-stop online meetings) and even Zoom bombing (where unintended people wander into other people’s meetings). Some meetings were even hacked by cyber mischief makers.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that WFH brought a whole new dimension to the workplace. Both employers and employees realised that many things can be done from home without any shortcomings or problems. The employees also feel more relaxed at home. Away from the deadlines and pressures, employees are free to work on whatever project at their convenience. On the other hand, some employees may miss the workplace atmosphere and camaraderie, an integral part of the work experience.

Many companies around the world have now realised that WFH could be a permanent fixture. Several leading companies have now given their workers a choice – permanent WFH, permanent office or hybrid WFH/Office. Surveys have shown that most employees have opted for the latter, which gives them the best of both worlds. Solitude at home to work on a given assignment or project or the laughter and chatter of office for a fun day of work, even if the boss is a grumpy character.

Programs to attract “digital nomads”

Permanent WFH is also welcomed by some employees, as the location of work need not necessarily be one’s home per se. It can be anywhere in the world. Several countries have launched visa programs to attract these “digital nomads” – people who travel the world while working for their companies. Sri Lanka will also be introducing a similar long-term visa program to attract those who would like to work from “home” on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. That is the future of work, whether we like it or not – have laptop, will travel.

But away from the two extremes of permanent WFH and permanent office, lies the rather attractive option of hybrid office/WFH. In other words, either the employer or employee can decide top WFH on a certain number of hours or days, while coming to the (physical) office on selected days. Meetings too can be held in a hybrid format – some people can be in the office, while others connect remotely. It is a win-win situation. One gets the work done and also does not miss the office atmosphere on occasion. It is the ideal compromise between relaxation and efficiency.

Multiple benefits

It is time that companies in Sri Lanka break through the traditional thinking that all workers must come to the office, no matter what. It has been shown that despite certain domestic compulsions, workers are far more productive at home and even work longer hours than when they are in the office physically. Many local companies experienced the benefits of WFH during the lockdown – not only in terms of worker productivity, but also in terms savings in electricity, water and telephone bills, air-conditioner and fan usage, cost savings in employee transport, overtime savings, canteen savings etc. These are quite substantial in the case of larger companies and will reflect positively in their balance sheets.

Therefore, lockdown or not, WFH must be made a part of our work (and domestic) life. It is heartening to note that despite the opening of the country, several major Sri Lankan companies, especially those engaged in the IT sector, continue to allow their employees to WFH on at least two days a week. This is a healthy trend that must continue - and a trend that can be emulated by other companies, as long as the WFH model suits their core business. WFH has a bright future indeed.