Singapore—With 80 percent of the workforce in Singapore working from home due to the coronavirus, it may be tempting to believe that telecommuting is here to stay. After all, even tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Spotify are making the move to work from home a more or less permanent one.
Not so fast, some experts say. Rather than accepting at face value that this is the future of work not only in Singapore but all over the globe, attention must be paid to the argument that the workplace should not be abolished after all.
Some believe that while telecommuting may be having a moment, it is not yet our future, and it behooves us to examine why.
There are limits to online interactions.
If the main channels of communication are online this could easily cause tension and misunderstanding while face to face, in-person encounters would not.
In the United States, Bank of America and Yahoo made a u-turn on work from home practices as they had found it to be “detrimental to corporate teamwork.”
“There is no substitute for in-person collaboration and connection,” said Take-Two Interactive Software CEO Strauss Zelnick.
This is especially true for those who are in management roles in a firm, who find that actual management and mentoring is best done offline. The same goes for relationship-building, spontaneity, and creativity.
Telecommunication may add to workers’ stress.
A 2019 study found that people who worked from home experienced more stress than those who actually went to work. Working from home, many times does not lessen work-family conflicts, as the needed barrier between the two is blurred in telecommuting.
Since home and work like are no longer separated, the possibility of burnout and the toll on mental health should also be taken into consideration.
Working from home fails to build a company’s culture.
A company’s “culture” is important in that it’s a direct contributor to productivity, profitability, worker satisfaction and retention. Happy employees who relate to their company’s values and goals are more likely to stay in their jobs as well as do well in them.
Moreover, interactions in a telecommuting setting only occur via emails, chats, or video conferences fail to build necessary teamwork, and can lead of workers feeling isolated from one another.
The death of society?
Michael Koziol, the Sun-Herald deputy editor, wrote in an op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that “Normalising ‘working from home’ will be the death of society.”
“I think we tend to undervalue the social experience of seeing our colleagues: the lift encounters, the desk-side chats, the coffee runs. I suppose if we happily discard those things now it will only go to show how little they really meant all along. But we’ll miss them, I suspect. They’re much better than staring at a screen.
Of course, it’s not just about interactions with co-workers – it’s also the people you see on the train, the flirtation with your barista, the friends you might meet on your break. Life in the public realm.”
For the immediate future, at least, telecommuting looks like it’s here to stay. But how far this is going to last beyond the pandemic remains to be seen. —/TISG