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What Are the Biggest Barriers to WFH after the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Life without commutes, micro-management and the hunt for cheap lunchtime meals may seem like an appealing transition away from office-based working environments for employees, but there can be some fairly significant barriers to adoption for businesses to overcome. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to act fast in implementing work-from-home (WFH) ecosystems that can keep operations flowing smoothly while ensuring that employees remain happy, safe, and productive. According to a recent UN report on International Labour Organization, while employees are generally more productive when working away from traditional office environments, they’re also vulnerable to working longer hours, experiencing work-home interference and feeling greater levels of stress.

As we can see from Buffer’s recent 2021 State of Remote Work employee survey, there’s still much confusion around how companies plan to operate in the wake of the pandemic. With only 16% of employers currently confirmed as intending to return to office environments, it’s safe to say that a significant transition towards WFH will continue to occur even after COVID-19 has subsided. 

However, it’s vital that businesses address the barriers in front of them before fully embracing remote work over the long term. Failure to do so may adversely affect employee health and the productivity of the company as a whole. 

Technological Limitations

One of the biggest issues facing businesses making the transition towards WFH is the adoption of technology that will aid the performance of workers away from the office. According to a survey from the UK Work Foundation, 56% of employees claimed that they had difficulty using the technology available to them when it came to undertaking work remotely. 

However, this hurdle is already in the process of being cleared thanks to the rapid adoption of new technologies during the health crisis – enabling businesses to gain a greater understanding of what’s required of them in terms of the tech. Businesses will need to carry a greater emphasis on updating computer systems, training staff and generating a brand new technical support system. 

“It’s important for you to ‘walk the walk’ and take time to use new technology like telepresence robots, chat apps, video conference, and other unified communication channels to get your team on board with communicating this way in their daily lives,” explains Forbes contributor, Daniel Newman.

Task Management

Employers may feel that having employees operating outside of the office could make task delegation and project management more challenging. After all, how can workers be constantly aware of what they’re doing? And who will be in charge of delegating tasks to their teams? 

Clearing this hurdle relies on employers already having a system in place in which tasks can be assigned to workers. Projects can often fall by the wayside even in brick and mortar offices. This means that if employers buy into project management solutions in the office, then it’s likely to be easier to translate this to outside the office. 

Delegation can be made significantly easier by platforms like Monday, which can enable managers to create and share workloads and tasks with employees using straightforward traffic light systems to gain a comprehensive view of overall performance. 

Communication

WFH won’t be successful if your business doesn’t implement a consistent avenue for communication. Employees need to be capable of talking to one another as well as their respective managers. Sadly, not all businesses are equipped with the real-time communication needed for remote work, which can cause off-site employees to feel disconnected and isolated. 

It’s worth combatting this by utilising tools that offer instant communication and engagement within teams and projects. Here, it’s important to remember that face-to-face communication is still highly valuable when it comes to working as a team. With this in mind, use video conferencing wherever possible to hold meetings. 

Managers and employees should have regular check-in meetings to keep communication flowing and to exchange feedback with workers while assessing whether any new training is needed. 

One area in which WFH needs to quickly catch up with that of office-based operations is by making managers and business leaders more accessible. Operate with digital open-door policies where any employee can get in touch with their manager at any time and start a dialogue. 

Platforms like Slack can be strong in this regard – where instant messaging and notifications can be used to contact individuals or teams. 

Employee Health

Another hurdle that may become more apparent over time revolves around the physical health of employees. Without an office or a commute to break days up, employees are becoming increasingly exposed to their screens – including monitors, smartphones and televisions. This heavy exposure to blue light at home may harm the eyesight of workers and disrupt sleep patterns if left untreated. 

Employers may be able to combat this by establishing more robust breaktime structures, or by supporting workers through subsidising specialist blue light glasses that the employees can order online

Similarly, early reports of workers suffering from musculoskeletal aches and pains while WFH is another cause for concern. Charity, Versus Arthritis, has called on employees to be more open about their aches and pains after its survey found that as many as 89% of workers suffering from musculoskeletal problems in their new workspaces hadn’t told their employers about it. 

With this in mind, businesses need to look to create policies that protect the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. There needs to be more guidance on ergonomic workspaces and an open door policy on employees approaching their managers regarding their concerns. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the perks of working from home have become clear. Though as a relatively new opportunity for businesses to go remote, both employees and employers alike will be stepping into this brave new world together. With this in mind, it’s only through transparency and mutual understanding that businesses will successfully navigate the WFH landscape. 

About the author

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Peter Jobes

Peter Jobes is a Tech, crypto, and blockchain writer who has worked with the Press Association and clients like Tesco, RAC and HelpUCover. CMO at Solvid.