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Work from Home Culture: Pros and Cons

This article has been published as a part of The Quest July Digest.

 Preksha Seth, Alka Chauhan, and Nand Lal Mishra

Preksha Seth is a final year student of Applied Psychology at Ramanujan College, University of Delhi. Alka Chauhan and Nand Lal Mishra are research scholars at International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai

The introduction of boundaryless careers[1], along with rapid development in communication technology, has made the shift towards fluidity in career possibilities. As jobs became more boundary-less, they also changed a lot of perceptions about work-home relations. In a recent couple of decades, family structures have also changed. Many women can enter the workforce since the remote opportunities would not tamper with their pre-existing physical autonomy norms. The work from home culture can also be of immense value to the people supporting childcare or eldercare along with their careers.

Remote working from the employer’s lens

Working from home is beneficial for the employees as well as organizations. Researches show that employees working from home are more productive as compared to employees working in an office[2]. Work from home can visibly reduce real estate costs, saving office space, and lower employee attrition. The remote working opportunities can be more forgiving for the employees and empower them while levying a sense of responsibility.

Organizations can now engage in cross-border hiring, which was earlier limited to local talent acquisition. It enables the management to capture a broader and more diversified workforce. The tedious hiring procedures are now just a click away. The companies can save up on team building activities, too.

Flexible work opportunities, primarily, work from home sound luring with all their benefits and profitability, but its practical application still has many problems. One of the biggest challenges is that not all companies can make an investment in technology that will facilitate work from home. It may be due to a lack of human resource policies towards employees or perceptions of low productivity. While many large-cap firms can afford to train their employees and managers for telework, small firms lack enough resources to do the same[3]. Feasibility is highly dependent on the size of the company, years of establishment, type of work, etc.

Even in those organizations that give the option of flexible work practices (FWPs), the usage of such policies remains low. One of the reasons seems to be the career penalties tied with them. Studies have shown that managers often decide the career outcomes of their employees based on their attributions about the productivity of FWPs[4]. The ideal worker norm, individuals who spend more hours in the office and give less importance to their family life,[5] are considered flawless workers and are entitled to more career premiums.

Another problem with adoption is resistance to change[6]. While this arrangement is highly desirable for young employees, especially women, others may be resistant to undergo training or change. The HRs might want to consider mental agility as an essential skill among the new hires, while it may also be a task identifying the fast learners to help the out-galloped ones.

Employees’ perspective on work from home

While flexible work timing to breaks ratio is a more celebrated benefit of working from home, zero commute time and expenses are other.  Reduced absenteeism from work and increased satisfaction from work is also possible when working from home. Cross-border communications often require the use of technically advanced applications, giving the employees a further opportunity to diversify their skills.

Many women can enter the workforce with flexible work opportunities. Many couples today are not just dual-earning couples but dual-career couples. Both partners can pursue their own separate careers.[7] This has opened pathways of equality in the profession for men and women. In-office culture is often not supportive of women who require long career breaks due to childcare or other reasons.

This opportunity has also brought many challenges along with it. As many individuals find it hard to unplug from work and work from home makes them available 24/7[8]. They not only struggle to work productively without proper equipment and with little training, unrealistic expectations, and overburdening workload hampers with their mental and physical wellbeing. Such challenges have highlighted the changes required in the current ‘work-from-home’ system. To create an employee-friendly virtual environment, avoiding the ‘3 a.m. emails’ needs to be inculcated into this culture. Given the strong hierarchical approach in organizations, it can doubtlessly be claimed that the management officials can only administer this change.

This pandemic is giving a difficult time for the entire world, but it has also initiated changes in every aspect of individuals’ lives. These changes are likely to prevail in the ‘Post COVID19 Era’. Some of these changes are also directed towards altering the current organizational culture. A survey from Ireland highlights these changes[9]. This survey indicated work from home has not only reduced the chances of spreading COVID19 but also reduced their costs and hassles of commuting to the workplace and ensured autonomy and flexibility as to how to manage their working day. As indicated by previous studies, job autonomy is related to employee wellbeing[10].

Implementing work from home in Indian Society

A consideration that should be kept in mind while looking at the problem of the ideal worker norm is its gendered nature. Scholars have noted that these flexible work practices like working from home penalize women more than they penalize men[11]. The major reason is that the gendered role of women in family work (childcare, cooking, etc.) makes it impossible for women to fit themselves in the ideal worker norm. Hence, when women adopt working from home or using telework, their performance reviews may suffer[12].

While work-life policies have received a lot of appreciation and emphasis in past years, many countries like India still lack in implementation of such systems. This situation has flipped in the past few months, and the catalyst for this change is the global pandemic. The Covid19 presented unprecedented challenges in front of the entire world, be it in terms of health infrastructure or economy. Social distancing is known to be an effective strategy to reduce virus transmission[13]. Social distancing led to a change that many organizations were reluctant to make. These organizations have very few options, either they can invest in telework or shutdown. During this time, organizations worldwide shifted from in-office culture to work from home culture[14].

It may also be the time to rethink the workday hours as a dual-career couple, single parents, and employees with eldercare duties, working from home, struggle to keep up with the unrealistic expectations of the employers. The long work hours reinforced by managers and the organization’s implicit ideal worker can lead to many health concerns[15]. Hence, an important consideration would be to carefully look at the work culture and modify them for real workers rather than ideal workers.

This pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in the perceptions of employers and policymakers around the world. It has not only shown us that the benefits of this emerging system, but also highlighted the implicit bias against workers prioritizing both work and home. The work-from-home system is still evolving and attempting to accommodate the needs of all. Future research needs to focus on the practical challenges in worldwide usage of these techniques and suggest changes. The impact of the pandemic on gender bias in the accessibility and outcomes of work from home strategies needs to be evaluated further.

Cite this article as: Preksha Seth, Alka Chauhan, Nand Lal Mishra, "Work from Home Culture: Pros and Cons," in THE QUEST Sociolegal Review, August 13, 2020, https://thequestslr.in/2020/work-from-home-culture-pros-and-cons/.

[1]DeFillippi, R. J., & Arthur, M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A competency‐based perspective. Journal of organizational behavior, 15(4), 307-324.

[2]Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z. J. (2015). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1), 165-218.

[3]Pérez, M. P., Sánchez, A. M., & de Luis Carnicer, M. P. (2002). Benefits and barriers of telework: perception differences of human resources managers according to company’s operations strategy. Technovation, 22(12), 775-783.

[4]9 Leslie, L. M., Manchester, C. F., Park, T. Y., & Mehng, S. A. (2012). Flexible work practices: A source of career premiums or penalties?. Academy of Management Journal, 55(6), 1407-1428.

[5]Davies, A. R., & Frink, B. D. (2014). The origins of the ideal worker: The separation of work and home in the United States from the market revolution to 1950. Work and Occupations, 41(1), 18-39.

[6]Pérez, M. P., Sánchez, A. M., & de Luis Carnicer, M. P. (2002). Benefits and barriers of telework: perception differences of human resources managers according to company’s operations strategy. Technovation, 22(12), 775-783.

[7]Hobfoll, S. E., & Hobfoll, I. H. (1994). The dual career couple’s survival guide: Work won’t love you back.

[8]McCarthy, A., Ahearne, A., Bohle-Carbonell, K., Ó Síocháin, T., & Frost, D. (2020). Remote working during COVID-19: Ireland’s national survey initial report.

[9]McCarthy, A., Ahearne, A., Bohle-Carbonell, K., Ó Síocháin, T., & Frost, D. (2020). Remote working during COVID-19: Ireland’s national survey initial report.

[10]Thompson, C. A., & Prottas, D. J. (2006). Relationships among organizational family support, job autonomy, perceived control, and employee well-being. Journal of occupational health psychology, 11(1), 100.

[11]Ryan Ann Marie, Kossek Ellen Ernst. Work-life policy, implementation, breaking down or creating barriers to inclusiveness. Human Resource Management. 2008;47:295–310.

[12]Reid, E. (2015). Embracing, passing, revealing, and the ideal worker image: How people navigate expected and experienced professional identities. Organization Science, 26(4), 997-1017.

[13]Qiu, J., Shen, B., Zhao, M., Wang, Z., Xie, B., & Xu, Y. (2020). A nationwide survey of psychological distress among Chinese people in the COVID-19 epidemic: implications and policy recommendations. General psychiatry, 33(2).

[14]McCarthy, A., Ahearne, A., Bohle-Carbonell, K., Ó Síocháin, T., & Frost, D. (2020). Remote working during COVID-19: Ireland’s national survey initial report.

[15]Virtanen, M., Jokela, M., Nyberg, S. T., Madsen, I. E., Lallukka, T., Ahola, K., … & Burr, H. (2015). Long working hours and alcohol use: systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data. Bmj, 350.

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