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Working from Home — Not all it’s cracked up to be?

Posted: 15 Jul 2020

Working from Home — Not all it’s cracked up to be?

Working from home can appear attractive but in practice many employers and IT workers find the disadvantages outweigh the benefits, says Eolas Recruitment.

For the last few months, many information technology workers have been working from home as organisations hastily adapted work practices due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This trend looks set to continue at least for some workers in the so-called ‘new normal’ economy. But is remote working all that it’s cracked up to be?

Remote working in Ireland

Government research on Remote Working in Ireland has found that flexibility and reduced commuting times are the main advantages for employees but remote work “is also associated with longer working hours, work intensification and interference with personal life”.

The research says businesses “can benefit from remote working arrangements by gaining access to a broader pool of talent, promoting retention, increasing productivity and improving cost-effectiveness while engaging in more sustainable ways of working”. However, the research acknowledges that there are cost implications to implementing change.

Disadvantages of Working from Home for Employers

After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, initial euphoria about the advantages of working from home focused on better work/life balance with commuting eliminated for many employees. The benefits of lower carbon emissions due to reduced traffic volumes has also been in the news. Now, however, employers and IT workers are finding that the disadvantages of working from home often outweigh the benefits, says Eolas Recruitment Managing Director Vincent Flynn.

“For many employers, the cost of providing and securing suitable equipment and services such as laptops, mobile phones and broadband for employees working from home is a major disadvantage. We’re also hearing a lot about the pressure that working from home puts on corporate networks that are not set up to cope with so many people working remotely at the same time. Then there’s the question of who gets to work from home and who doesn’t and the tensions that can cause for some employers.

“Managers find it more difficult to supervise, assess performance and identify training needs. It can also be harder to motivate teams and mentor employees. There is a risk that misunderstandings can occur where work conversations with employees happen by email or via apps like Zoom or WhatsApp. That can lead to interpersonal problems that are time-consuming to resolve.

“Another potential headache is that HR issues like complying with health and safety legislation apply to employees working from home just the same as if they are working in the employer’s premises or travelling on business so employers need to make staff aware of the health and safety requirements and ensure that home work spaces are suitable. Likewise, all the policies that employers have in place in the workplace — anti-bullying policies, requirements to take breaks and so on — also apply when employees are working from home. So, all of these things are an added burden on employers.

“So, while there are benefits to working from home in terms of flexibility, potential savings on office space, and more scope for employers to broaden the locations they hire from, the benefits definitely need to be weighed against the downside. There are a lot of ways that life can be more difficult for employers when teams are working from home,” says Vincent.

Disadvantages of Working from Home for Employees

For employees, the main advantages of working from home are saving on commuting time and more flexibility which can be good for work/life balance, says Senior Recruiter Peter Kirby. However, some workers find that these advantages are eroded by increased stress due to long hours and difficulty setting boundaries.

“One of the big problems for many employees working from home is that there are more distractions. While it can be great to be able to get out for a walk during the day or to stick a load of washing in the machine, a lot of people find it difficult to set boundaries especially if they have young children or older relatives in the home. People also find that because they are more accessible to family and other people outside of their work life it can be harder to focus on getting work done.

“Another issue that particularly impacts younger people in small accommodation with no gardens is the feeling of isolation,” adds Vincent.

“For younger employees, their social life is often intertwined with their work environment. They have lost all the interaction of canteen lunches, hang out rooms and socialising in the city after work. A lot of employees are really missing that. Virtual coffee breaks are all very well but they don’t make up for those real world connections,” Vincent says.

“Yes, that’s true,” agrees Peter who adds that IT workers who are working from home more often because of the Covid-19 crisis, or working from home for the first time, find they are more tired than usual because they are spending so much time on Zoom meetings every day.

“It’s also harder to switch off so employees can end up working longer hours and constantly checking their phone after the work day has ended,” Peter says.

Eolas Recruitment is not alone in noticing these problems. A recent RTE report cites LinkedIn research which found that people working from home due to the coronavirus are “clocking up an extra 38 hours per month” while The Irish Times cites research carried out by pollsters Behaviour and Attitudes (B&A) on behalf of Laya Healthcare which found that about 40 per cent of workers are struggling with remote working.

Working from Home in the Tech Sector

In the tech sector, companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook have said their employees will continue to work from home until the end of the year. Other businesses may also have to continue to facilitate remote working, at least for now. This has implications not just for employers and employees, but also for job seekers.

Senior Recruiter Nollaig Leydon says candidates need to prepare for being interviewed online or by phone and be comfortable with how they come across on screen. Eolas Recruitment has previously shared tips on job-hunting during the Covid-19 crisis and advice on how to prepare for online interviews.

Employers conducting online interviews also need to prepare well in advance and keep in mind that they still need to do pre-employment checks such as establishing if a candidate has the right to work in the country, verifying qualifications, checking references, and arranging medical/health checks where necessary,  Eolas Recruitment can assist employers in this regard,” Nollaig advises.

IT contractors

Demand for IT contractors has been rising over the last few months due to the increased IT workload in businesses where processes or working practices have had to change due to Covid-19, says Senior Recruiter Stephen Daly.

“With more employees working from home and businesses having to adapt their processes to cope with the impact of Covid-19, we are seeing increased demand for contractors in areas like e-commerce and IT security. Contractors are attractive to employers because they can hit the ground running—that’s really important for businesses who are adapting rapidly in response to the pandemic.”

New Normal

Government Guidance for working remotely during COVID-19 is available on the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation website. At the time of writing, a public consultation on how to build on this guidance is underway. The closing date for receipt of submissions is 7 August 2020.

While it is likely that working from home will remain part of the ‘new normal’ for some workers, it remains to be seen to what extent this shift in working practices will have a wider impact in the medium to long term. What is clear is that demand for IT skills will continue to be strong as businesses adapt to the changes that lie ahead. Advanced technologies have been accelerating the pace of change for some time now and, in a dynamic sector like IT, there is always movement as talented individuals develop their careers. As a specialist in this sector, Eolas Recruitment helps companies and candidates find the right talent and opportunities. For more information on our services, check out these informational videos and/or contact a member of our team.

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