Let's start this off by looking at how dramatically the workplace has changed in the last decade, shall we? Nah, let's start with seven years! In 2016, a mere four percent of our nation's employed humans worked from home, and it took just three years more for that percentage to skyrocket 26%, fueled, of course, by a once-unimaginable worldwide pandemic: COVID-19. Just as the virus was not to be underestimated, neither was its capacity to transform just about everything we do and how we work changed (potentially) for always and in all ways.
Today, post-pandemic, roughly 39% of jobs around the world are found to be feasible in a work from home approach while a study by Statistics Canada, "Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on productivity growth in Canada", by Weimin Wang, ultimately found that there is zero conclusive evidence showing that working from home increases OR reduces industry productivity or performance. Notably Wang did find that nearly six in ten workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher education can work from home versus 10% of their counterparts – those with no high school diploma – so it can be said that working from home is a very large privilege held by the privileged, overall.
So, the question is not if working from home effects industry productivity rates, we know that a huge portion of jobs, in an array of industries, globally, can be carried out from home, and its fact that we’re just 10% shy away from half the “Earth’s (privileged) workers” doing their jobs at home. What we want to answer is if working from home is really working, long-term, and on a human level.
After all, studies have shown that feeling connected to others is a basic human need. Sociologists Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez emphasize that interpersonal relationships have a significant impact on our overall health –mental, behavioral, physical, and, even, mortality. The good ‘ol Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs even displays our need for human connection under the psychological need of 'Belonging and Love' and theorizes this basic psychological need, of every human being, as foundational to self-actualization – the tip of the pyramid. It seems our species can’t reach our potential without first conquering and understanding ourselves I.e., connecting. Relationship-building is important, so too is community, and I’ve got to wonder if a remote world of work is really supporting us to connect.
The World Economic Forum has found that working from home is limiting our abilities, as employees, and for companies, to build healthy relationships and learn from our peers while also stunting career growth. They found that working from home hinders our abilities to spark conversations spontaneously and genuinely connect and receive feedback that helps shape how we approach what we do and our (perceived) value on a team. Sigh. Don’t get too down, the data dips only slightly in favour of in-office but the mere concept of not being able to have spontaneous, relationship-catalyst conversations within a team does feel big, doesn’t it?
Beyond connection to others, it is critical to have connection to ourselves and this is where the remote work reviews are again divided! It appears that working from home does have different distractions but sometimes this means less (no one to spontaneously talk to except your cat can do that, right). What’s seen now is that one in three millennial workers report feeling overwhelmed by lack of work-life balance when working from home (the lines do become blurred). However, there are preventative tactics to help with these feelings and, actually, many ways both the employed and the employer can adapt to deepen support for remote work – a huge part of this means accepting that working from home cannot look or have the same “rules” as working in-office.
This has prompted many to turn to technology, lean into status message updates, carefully calendar, optimize Teams and Slack channels, and carve-out personal time. Reflecting on the remote work shift, many employers are now embracing the concept of hybrid too. This requires not just thinking about how employees work remotely but carefully considering what the office can look like and feel like to better support workers when they do come in to tackle their jobs. These methodologies and new approaches are helping us to create space to reconnect with ‘be human’, not just ‘an employee’.
It seems that working from home truly working relies not just on the individual but collective effort. While employees vary personality-wise, at the very root of human health and potential is genuine connection - not just a strong Wi-Fi. Fostering this isn't always easy and may not come naturally, particularly in the corporate world, however even slow shifts toward creating cultures of care and innovation are adapting us toward a clearer connection-consciousness. The future of work relies on embracing new ways of working too.