Work from home: An enduring legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic

A pandemic of the magnitude being experienced today was scarcely foreseen by laymen or experts. However, that the Covid-19 virus did cause a pandemic and continues to affect daily life is now a reality. The pandemic has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths across all continents save Antarctica, led to losses of jobs and livelihoods, strained healthcare systems and economies, affected the way we eat, play and interact, and brought wave upon wave of lockdowns; and this is just a fraction of the misery that the virus has heaped.

At the same time, there are certain enduring legacies of the virus that are bound to remain even after a vaccine has been discovered or the pandemic is declared ended due to other factors such as a mutation in the virus or large-scale immunity against it. Two of the most likely of these legacies are the trend of wearing face masks in public and the work from home culture. Among these, the trend of wearing facemasks is likely to endure since facemask protect not only against Covid-19 but also against other air-borne microbes and allergy causing substances like hay and dust. Furthermore, their ability to filter out particulate matter also assumes significance due to the astronomically high levels of pollution.

Meanwhile, the work from home culture is likely to endure since employers now have confidence that it is possible for their staff to work remotely without any negative impact on productivity. In fact, given the home office spending undertaken by a large population of the workforce, not to mention the contribution of several employers towards this spending, continuation of the culture is the most pragmatic path in the long-run. Further strengthening this contention is the numerous benefits working from home or other remote locations brings to both employees and employers. Needless to say, such benefits and contentions apply only to those professions where hands-on work and physical presence of an employee is not necessary.

Primary among the benefits of working remotely is that employers can make big savings on real estate through compact office spaces, reduced tariffs for electricity and other utilities, reduced logistical and office infrastructure expenses, etc. Besides this, given that most places if employment are based in congested urban areas and metropolitans, employees spend a large portion of their time on travel. In several large cities in both developing as well as developed countries, some employees spend as much as four hours a day on travel to and from their workplace alone. This has negative effects on their energy levels and mental health, which in turn reduces their productivity.

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The concept of work from home has historically not appealed to employers since they fear that employees will cease to be productive if they are not monitored. During the pandemic, two developments have been observed in this regard. One is where businesses have adopted monitoring systems that allow them to ensure that their employees are doing assigned tasks, and the other, and perhaps smarter approach, is one where employee productivity is gauged through targets and deliveries rather than work hours. Of these, the latter has the added advantage of gaining employee confidence, which can help businesses retain high-performers in the long run. Given the various advantages of remote working, it would indeed be a surprise if the work from home culture failed to endure beyond the pandemic.

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