In light of our society’s continuous technological progressions, COVID-19 has inevitably launched a transition to remote work for many sectors since its initial outbreak.
As a consequence, many firms have undergone substantial structural changes within their productivity landscapes where social distancing has become a new norm. Similarly, a survey conducted in June 2020 outlined that 32% of Australians were working from home at the peak of lockdown (D’Angelo Fisher, 2021), with the percentage of workers expected to engage in remote work expected to double in 2021 (Castrillon, 2021). In support of this transformation, several companies, including Facebook and PwC, have made coming into the office a non-compulsory requirement, promoting greater flexibility (Newman, 2021).
Current trends outline that professions within commerce-related industries such as finance and the information sector possess the highest potential for remote work. This is in contrast to the agricultural and accommodation sectors which have the lowest potential due to these sectors’ overall work nature (Lund et al., 2020). Additionally, it can be identified that traditional businesses have struggled during their remote work transitions, in contrast to technology-based companies that benefit from a pre-existing infrastructural advantage (Castrillon, 2021). In contribution, labour forces in advanced economies are also found to be better equipped to conduct remote work due to more advanced technologies (H. Hana et al., 2021). Furthermore, the rise of virtual work platforms such as the popular video-conferencing platform Zoom and Microsoft Teams have all revealed that businesses are able to subjugate the social-distancing difficulties put forward by COVID-19 (Newman, 2021).
At the same time, the progress in remote work made by corporations has dismissed many negative stereotypes established as well as hesitancy demonstrated within corporate cultures. However, although contemporary speculations allude to a potential that business landscapes may permanently shift online, the distribution of a vaccine and many occupations’ inherent necessity for interpersonal interactivity implies that working from home may not be a long-term solution. Nevertheless, the benefits and drawbacks of remote work can be explored through 3 broad perspectives: employee, employer and the broader society.
These benefits manifest most readily in increased workplace flexibility, wherein the location, time, travel, and nature of work could be subject to the needs of individual employees.
Remote working creates reduced costs through less expenditure on parking, transport costs, work clothes, and larger savings from being able to relocate to lower-cost areas. These costs and time savings are particularly significant for lower-income individuals, for whom these expenses represent a higher proportion of their income while often living further away from more expensive metro areas.
Increases in workplace flexibility also create opportunities for increased leisure time and lower amounts of employee stress, while making work more accessible for parents, people with disabilities, and people who live outside of urban cores.
While remote work does entitle the employee to greater freedom and decreased expenses, it brings with it a number of other limitations that prevent individuals from experiencing the most basic aspects of humanity, namely socialisation.
This kind of social seclusion poses a significant threat to mental health and wellbeing, primarily in the forms of isolation and burnout/fatigue (Staglin, 2020). According to studies, many people, regardless of whether they are working at home or not, find happiness in the shared experiences with those around them, indicating that they enjoy the feeling of being connected to a larger community (Markman, 2014). Therefore, as employees continue to work from home void of any social interaction, it is understandable that their mental health has taken a toll, especially given that feelings of isolation and loneliness are strongly linked to depression and anxiety (Dey, 2020).
Moreover, from an employer perspective, there is positive research indicating that providing the opportunity to voluntarily work from home is associated with increased productivity and improved employee retention. Remote working is also associated with substantial cost savings, a reduction in inefficient meetings, and improved workplace satisfaction.
Individual experiences for employers (managers etc.) with regards to working from home are largely similar to those of employees in terms of social isolation. However, on a business level, implications have arisen surrounding the virtual limitations of working from home, particularly in maintaining company culture (Alexander et al, 2020) and coherent team communication.
Adapting to working from home status has also proven difficult for employers, with many large-scale companies struggling with the switch to virtual meeting programs, such as Zoom, to conduct crucial business communications (European Business Review, 2020).
An increased proportion of remote working hours and the corresponding decrease in transportation carries several benefits beyond individual cost and time reduction. For example, less pressure would be placed on transportation infrastructure, resulting in less congestion, government expenditure, improved respiratory health, and fewer accidents. This would also represent a substantial contribution to climate change efforts through fewer transportation emissions. Additional carbon savings could be accrued through less office energy, heating, construction, and airplane business travel.
Additionally, a more decentralised workforce would enhance disaster and pandemic preparedness due to lower opportunities for vector transmission and lower impacts of any individual disaster event. The above benefits to productivity and employee satisfaction would also manifest in greater national output.
In summary, the nuances of the work from home debate will continue to engage theorists from across the economic spectrum, however, it is impossible to predict whether the COVID pandemic solidified the permanent shift toward flexible work arrangements. Ultimately, it can be confidently asserted that the forced movement towards online work has dismissed many negative stereotypes and informed employers and employees alike of the productivity and lifestyle benefits that it can provide, raising valid questions about the future of permanent work.
The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ, our Partners and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.
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