Frustrated remote worker

A nation of stay-at-home workaholics

Microsoft's latest work trends support shows employees want remote working but need to unplug, says Billy MacInnes
Image: Andrea piacquadio/Pexels

8 April 2021

Like many other people, I’ve been wondering how remote working will operate after the worst effects of the pandemic are over and we return to something close to normal.

According to the most recent Microsoft Work Trends Index, the view from those who used to work on the office floor before Covid-19 struck is that many of them would prefer to spend more time working from home.

For some, it’s not really up for discussion. The Index found more than 40% of the global workforce would consider leaving their employer this year if there were no options for remote working. Almost half (46%) are planning to move jobs within the year now that they are able to work remotely.




That’s not to say the enforced shift to remote working hasn’t brought its own problems. There are frictions. A large number of people (82%) want a better work-life balance, to disconnect once the working day is over (76%), to manage daily distractions better (73%) and reduce the number of virtual meetings every day (65%).

Remote working hasn’t been the panacea it could be for many workers. A majority of employees (54%) feel overworked and 39% feel exhausted. Time spent in meetings has doubled.

In light of those results, there are a few things that occur to me.

Let’s start with the issue of work-life balance and the ability to disconnect from work. Remote working obviously raises concerns over work-life balance because it blurs the demarcation lines between work and life outside work. But then, let’s be honest, that separation started to fray with the arrival of e-mail and mobile phones.

Will it really be possible to enforce that separation if businesses maintain a high level of remote working after the pandemic? Will the ‘right to disconnect’ be achievable in those circumstances if employees use remote working as a means to make work fit better with the tasks and responsibilities of their everyday life?

Left to our own devices

The next thing to look at is devices. According to the Index, 55% of remote workers are using a laptop and only 19% are using a desktop. This makes a lot of sense because laptops are portable and take up a lot less space than desktops. Employees can move them around the house if they need to and put them away somewhere safe when they’re not being used.

This contrasts with most offices which are predominantly PC-based. With the majority of workers expected to enjoy a form of hybrid working where only some of their time is spent in the office, the question is whether they need an office PC or would it make more sense to bring their laptop into work with them. It would obviously be easier to work on the same machine all the time, whether they are working remotely at home or in the office. The only concern is the increased risk of loss or damage to their laptop if they’re carrying it back and forth to the office.

As for meetings, who could have predicted that taking all employees out of the office would lead to a huge increase in the amount of time workers would spend in meetings? Everyone, probably. If managers and teams are physically separated, there is going to be a greater requirement for them to use virtual meetings to communicate.

Not to mention that a lot of managers, finally removed from their employees and able to focus on the strategic issues that had been pushed aside because so much of their time was taken up by day-to-day management, probably felt more comfortable reverting to the security of scheduling meetings with workers instead. In any case, they probably felt a greater need to check in on employees working remotely because they couldn’t see them in the office.

Worth the effort

Finally, we probably need to look at pay, renumeration and compensation.

Should people who need to work in the office most of, or all of, the time get paid more to cover their commuting costs? Is it fair that they need to spend a significant part of their day getting to and from work when remote workers don’t? Does commuting to and from the office count as disconnect time?

Should people who can work remotely and live in places that aren’t as expensive as the big cities and towns where most company offices are located expect to get paid the same as those who have to live closer to the office because they work there most of the time?

Should people who work from home expect an employer to compensate them for their heat, light and phone/broadband costs because the company is saving money by not having them in the office?

These are questions that businesses will need to look at when the pandemic is finally in check. How will they make remote working work when it’s not an emergency measure anymore? How will they make hybrid working effective? What role will technology play in that? Where will they need more technology – and where will they need less?

Whatever happens, one thing will be true for businesses and their employees: The normal they return to will be different from the one they left.

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