The general benefits of remote working are well-known, ranging from lowered business expenses, wider access to applicants, increased productivity, better disaster preparedness, improved employee satisfaction and retention, and reduced carbon footprint. There are also other Malta-specific advantages to be mentioned too, such as the avoidance of daily traffic jams, the commute and possible flooding during heavy rain, the possibility of enjoying the sun and the outdoors by venturing out to the island’s vast array of cafés and eateries, with viability of a quick swim during break times and a possible escape to sister island Gozo during the quieter and more serene months.
Therefore, there are certainly numerous workers who have enjoyed the months away from the office, albeit these have probably been stay-at-home and or rather restrictive arrangements.
While there is an anticipation for a vaccine to finally disseminate normality around the globe, it should be pretty evident that there will be no magical potion that will bring the situation to what it was. We are evidently reaching the point of pandemic fatigue, where faced with high case numbers and new restrictions, the end may seem to be somewhat out of sight as many begin to feel the need to get along with life and embrace this new reality rather keep playing the waiting game.
New Working Arrangement Opportunities
COVID-19 has brought about significant changes to our daily life, with remote working (locally often interchanged with stay-at-home) certainly on the rise as more and more employees are demanding flexibility with their schedule. This seems to be a long lasting possibility for both employer and employee. Workers want to be able to complete their duties at times and places of their choosing, where Maltese employers are increasingly getting on board, also in view of the tangible cost savings, compared to the marginally higher operational cost.
As a result, more and more people are today working where they live, also attracted by the promise of flexibility, efficiency and no commute. But does this come at a cost to their wellbeing? The ability to work flexibly, be that at home or wherever else life may take you, is the dream for every disgruntled employee who has to fit in school pickups, dentist appointments and long commutes around office hours.
Yet, it is unquestionable that the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for many. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen seems to have been somewhat overwhelming for some and caused strong emotions in adults and children alike. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak will often cause fear and worry about health and the health of loved ones, the financial situation or job, or loss of support services. It can cause changes in sleep and eating patterns which lead to dips in concentration and brain fog. It can worsen chronic health problems and mental health conditions, together with increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances. Public health actions, such as social distancing, seems to start making people feel isolated and lonely and increased stress and anxiety. While such restrictions are necessary to reduce the spread, coping with the situation in a healthy way will make each individual, the people they care about, and the community stronger.
Benefits and Pitfalls of Working Remotely
Based on several years working from home, cafés, clients’ offices and also the beach at times, one cannot misjudge the downsides of this way of work life, with the greatest being isolation. Beyond the lack of interaction with colleagues – there are no ideas by osmosis, no overhearing others talking – there is also the lack of interaction with the wider world, where often work takes a significant social and connection deficient. There are problems with blurring the line between work and home found some with common disadvantages and negative impacts ranging from mental health (anxiety, stress, depression), isolation (not being in a team), and lack of self-discipline (proximity of the fridge and biscuit tin; not enough exercise; difficulty in setting boundaries between work and life).
Certainly, working alone may mean greater flexibility and fewer interruptions, but it is in those small interactions with colleagues – where people become multifaceted, as opposed to the flattened, disembodied personas of online avatars – that connections are made. When you’re hardly ever in the same room, it’s the only way to really get to know each other – and to build trust.
The isolation that comes with the territory when the sense of community is lost. Of course, the biggest hurdle is that there is no one to help you regain perspective when things are not going to plan. Not knowing when to say no to work – or how to switch off for the day – can quickly lead to being overwhelmed. Figuring out how to balance life and work in the same space is difficult for everyone, with research suggesting that women have it harder.
Contrary to the received wisdom that working from home equals more flexibility for parents, it basically means more childcare. To others it means more extra work to be done, but scarcely more time with the children, often time in the presence of children and not more interaction with children. If juggling sickness, school, inset days and holidays with a full-time office job is difficult enough for a parent to manage, trying to do anything that requires brain power from the kitchen table in the midst of young children, is to say the least, challenging – often impossible.
Self-confidence is key to successful home-based working of any stripe, as is knowing how to communicate clearly (so your distant bosses and colleagues know what you are up to), learning to work consistently (in the absence of feedback you might otherwise receive in an office environment) and, crucially, recognising when you need to go for a walk, work out, just take a break or just get out of your pyjamas.
In spite of the obvious challenges and learning curve of taking your job remotely, it seems that for some it is worthwhile. While the vast majority of remote workers report enjoying the way they live and work and they would return to the office given the chance, for some, remote working may be about as good as working life can get.
One can conclude that that remote working can actually work. Nevertheless, like many studies prove, employees must be equipped with the right tools and opportunities. Home remote working cannot exist alone, where ideally other options need to be provided.
Now that countries are moving again to stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic, there is a decision to be made! Options are to be assessed based on a clear understanding of the differences between stay-at-home work and remote working. Workers might do better work and stay more productive if they find a suitable location to work from, other than their home even if this is limited to few days throughout the week or month.
In a remote location, the employee can focus on the work at hand; at home, that is not always the case. In some cases, a remote worker might find faster wireless access, be able to customize the workspace, use a faster and more reliable connections and helps them do more work, and even customise remote location that encourage a healthy work environment and provide more of an office vibe.
Achieving Work Balance
More than anything, working remotely means the employee has a clear separation from their home life (the kids, their spouse, and a high-definition television) and their job. It’s beneficial to the employee who can focus on work but also to the employer who trusts the remote worker is more diligent and is managing their time more effectively. The work is, ultimately, much better.
This is the notion of distributed work, where organisations with offices and employees spread out throughout the country/world define their workforces as distributed. Distributed work is purposeful: companies are prepared to support their employees, working from wherever they are most comfortable and productive, with regional office spaces that provide local support, and with the technology and infrastructure that enables them to be successful. With distributed work, communication and culture are moved outside the boundaries of a physical location so that everyone is included and engaged, regardless of where they live.
Shared office spaces help to make the remote concept succeed. It plugs the deficiencies of a fully remote model and therefore helps companies lower their business expenses, be more attractive to the right applicants, increase overall productivity, improve disaster preparedness, improve employee satisfaction and retention and reduce carbon footprint. Not all shared spaces are the same, so it is important to choose the right environment for match the values and ethic of your employees.
Serviced or shared office spaces like BUSINESSLABS enable businesses, small or large to attain the best results out of remote working. By providing a safe, genuine and family type community, a home office away from home. Hospitality matters, providing members with features that will enable their productivity and growth, make utilising the space fast and seamless and the community of like-minded individuals building effortless and enjoyable for all. Although we could have never predicted the global pandemic and its impact on businesses, we’re ready to be flexible and agile in this new world, accommodating future generations and trends.