Given that a University of Otago study reports that 89% of Kiwis want to continue to work from home at least part of the time post-COVID-19 lockdown, you’d think that WFH was a positive life-changer for many.
But is it really? Who are the winners, and who are the losers?
Is WFH all it’s cracked up to be?
Well, to the surprise of many employers, it was undoubtedly a more value-added time than they anticipated. The University of Otago says that 73% of employees reported they were equally or more productive WFH as at the office.
And, of course, employer office operational expenses plummeted, as did employee travel costs.
But for some, the WFH revolution is not a great move by any means. And by some, we mean those new to the workforce. While more experienced workers have the resources and skills to thrive in a well-equipped home office, what about those who – newly thrust into isolation in 2020 - lack the space or funds needed to set up a home workspace, and the ability or work and social maturity to function in an unstructured and lonely environment?
The stress generation
To start with, surviving COVID-19 has been difficult enough for young people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is concerned for a generation with ‘severely dented career prospects’.
And for those in Gen Z who did work through lockdown, software firm Smartsheet reported that of the 1000 workers they surveyed, over 80% of the Gen Zers felt “less connected” working remotely. And half bemoaned communication issues and having trouble getting necessary resources. So it wasn’t all beer, skittles and loud background music as they worked on the kitchen table.
Especially worrying has been that MetLife says that Gen Z employees were three times more likely to have sought help for mental health issues (like stress and burnout) than their more experienced workforce counterparts.
The social deficit
Besides experiencing high stress levels, many WFH Gen Zers have missed out on developing the ‘soft skills’ – that all-important EQ - so essential to their career progression.
Deloitte report that remote working during the pandemic has led to a significant drop in employee interactions during the workday. In fact, they say, incidences of new and casual workplace relationships have all but disappeared. And the reality is that Zoom, Teams, and FaceTime don’t make up for a lack of sustained workplace and social immersion.
The Health Foundation also weighed in with their concerns that the lack of social contact due to lockdown may impact young people’s ability to develop essential social and emotional skills. And without those skills (usually learned from peers in the workplace), the ability to forge strong relationships and loyalties in the business environment is in danger. Which in turn, makes the onramp to promotion all the harder to climb.
Faults in the talent pipeline
The bigger picture is equally grim.
While employers may take delight in how WFH enables them to abandon expensive office space, and large numbers of workers rejoice that they claw back travel time and expenses, the downside is that WFH will also likely reduce the pool of up-and-coming talent.
We may well have a generation who lacks the skills that make them desirable employees - through no fault of their own. All because the rest of us don’t want to go into the office.