Remote Working - Simple solution to complex problems
The COVID-19 pandemic has constrained us to ask ourselves some pertinent questions. As the moniker, that has been used to demonstrate the scale of change that has taken place, shows us: ‘The new normal’, the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t simply altered society temporarily but also established new standards. It is easy to look back with fond nostalgia for the simpler times preceding the pandemic than it is to learn about how we can improve the systems that surround us once this is all over.
We tend to underestimate the importance of the workplace, however, it occupies an important sociological role. American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, while devising the ‘third place’ theory which defines the importance of informal public gathering places, categorised the workplace as the second most important place which humans frequent, after their homes. The Corona Virus crisis has completely overturned this; many jobs were shifted, at least temporarily, to their domestic counterparts. Thus in such situations, the two most elemental locations were amalgamated; resulting in a number of advantages. One of the obvious results was the reduction in vehicular traffic. Arterial roads which were always choc-a-bloc with cars ended up deserted; seeming like a post-apocalyptic scenario. Apart from the obvious aesthetic and time-saving benefits, the lack of congestion led to a sharp decrease in air pollution; the Environmental and Resources Authority (ERA) estimated that between March and May, air pollution in Malta decreased by half when compared to the same period last year. Working from home has a further amount of direct benefits: less fuel expenses, less time spent in traffic or looking for parking and less stress.
From an employer’s perspective, having one’s employees working from home does have its benefits; since office space becomes at least partially redundant, expenses would be reduced. Furthermore, employers benefit from an increase in yield; research has shown that remote working increases productivity and helps employers lure highly-skilled workers as the possibility of working from home is seen as a desirable condition. Teleworking allows employers to reach a larger group of potential employees, and in turn, allows workers to access more job opportunities. The concept can also be a solution for working parents, as it might be possible for them to balance out more easily from home their duties as parents and as workers. The economy in general can also benefit, as ‘third places’ where people gather and interact, such as cafès or snack bars, would be used for work purposes thus stimulating spending.
Shifting from workplace to home has its downsides as well; co-operation between fellow employees might be impacted negatively as it is not a simple task to replace face to face communication. Moreover, socialisation would take a hit since more time would be spent at home and social interaction stemming from the workplace would be eliminated. As a consequence, a sense of collegiality among co-workers would be harder to maintain and a sense of belonging to the entity or company providing employment would hardly exist. Unfortunately, the concept of teleworking would benefit white-collar jobs only as manual labor by its very nature requires a much more hands-on approach.
This pandemic ought to serve us as an opportunity rather than a hindrance; an opportunity to grasp the potential of remote working and put the concept to work. The government must lead by example and start rolling out more incentives for the public workforce to work from home. As this is implemented, a number of changes would be in order. If we as a nation start viewing teleworking as the norm, we must ensure a more available and faster internet connection for all. As one can observe, this pandemic has begged the question of whether it is about time to consider internet connection as an essential service.
Just as the boom of online shopping did not translate into the end of conventional shops, teleworking shall not be a substitute to the workplace as we know it; but rather an additional option for our workers which ensures more convenience and efficiency.