The world of work has always been characterised by change. The most drastic changes in the labour landscape have been characterised by revolutions – the Agricultural Revolution saw an unprecedented increase in agricultural production, the Industrial Revolution witnessed the mass migration of workers from rural areas to industrial hubs, and in our time, the Digital Revolution is dominated by advanced communication tools and large scale corporate digitalisation.
Introduce a pandemic in the midst of a Digital Revolution, and instead of halting it, the digital momentum continues to escalate, giving rise to the phenomenon of remote working, thanks to the infrastructures that digitalisation had already put in place.
As the pandemic subsides, the discussion on the future of work, or the ‘Workforce Revolution' as some have dubbed it, is intensifying. Should work shift back to the way it was before the pandemic? Is remote working here to stay, or should we settle on a happy hybrid medium?
Face-to-face vs Remote
Essentially the debate rests between these two distinct modes of working – working from home or working remotely.
Remote working is working from home or from a location that is not associated with the employing organisation and where no other workers are present as co-workers.
On the other hand, face-to-face working involves travelling to an address that is associated with the employing organisation, and where co-workers are present.
What are the pros and cons of each? After a year and a half of a pandemic that has ushered in such a profound change to how, where, and with whom we work, we are in a good position to compare and contrast both modes of working.
Yet for some, this deliberation may be irrelevant. It may even spark anger and frustration because although the ‘future of work’ debate is current and important, it is nonetheless not on the table for all types of work.
For some workers, remote working is not an option because their labour cannot be executed remotely. But we will come back to this later.
Another salient issue is on which side of the fence will we choose to stand when discussing remote vs face-to-face work? And through which lens should the pros and cons be evaluated?
There may well also be a mismatch between the considerations that workers have vis-à-vis those on the management team. This too, we will return to later.
About to start your new remote job?: How to settle in your new remote job
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pros and cons of face-to-face work were rarely featured as topics of discussion. But as remote work started taking shape and form, traditional face-to-face work simultaneously gained perspective.
Pros: Face-to-face teams perform better than virtual ones. Collaboration and communication suffer when people are working remotely. Moreover, working from home often sees workers struggling to overcome loneliness. We are a social species, and it is only by maintaining a degree of real human interaction that we can prosper. It is more likely that face-to-face meetings run more efficiently, ensure clearer communication, build trust, and foster stronger teams. More importantly, there is ample evidence suggesting that remote work seriously tests mental health and well-being.
Cons: Face-to-face work takes up more time. For everyone to be in the same place at the same time requires travelling that will even entail travelling abroad at times. On most days, it's a daily commute with other commuters, resulting in heavy traffic, parking problems and maybe arriving late to work. Some people are already stressed out before they even commence their work shift. Also, face-to-face work is increasingly becoming expensive. It is not cost-effective for the commuting worker who has to pay travelling expenses, or for an organisation that has to pay for the rent, maintenance, and running costs of a big workspace.
Working from home has been described as a mixed bag.
Pros: For many, remote working has equalised their work-life balance. Spending too much time away from home skews this balance. Simply eliminating commuting time automatically increases the time spent at home. Working from home is less formal, and this too adds up to more free time, since preparing to get ready for work is also time-consuming.
Cons: Remote working can blur the difference between work and home mode. It eliminates the need to dress up for work, commute, and interact with work colleagues. This freedom and a lack of structure has been challenging for some who worked remotely throughout the pandemic, and there were many workers who reported feeling isolated and bereft of work relationships.
Interested in how to be a great remote working leader?: The Art of Remote Leadership
Best of both worlds
With both working styles presenting as equally relevant, and with neither having a marked advantage over the other across the world of work, is the best option is to adopt a system that offers the best of both worlds?
The current discussion centred around the future of work is now touting hybrid as the new kid on the block. An advantage of hybrid is its flexibility to best serve an organisation’s needs and demands.
For companies where the benefits of remote working far outweigh the disadvantages, hybrid may mean more remote work, while for others it may mean less remote work and more time spent physically at work.
But back to the previous considerations. Not all work lends itself to remote working or a mix of both. And what is going to happen when job applicants choose work on the basis of remote vs face-to-face options? Will face-to-face vacancies struggle to find applicants?
And what about salaries? Remote working is predominantly associated with tech work on the higher end of the pay scale. Face-to-face work includes many service and hospitality industries, which are already struggling to find workers and are not traditionally the highest paying occupations.
Are salaries going to need to adjust to take into account work location? Could sales assistants and nurses, for example, be entitled to special allowances simply because their work involves a commute? Is the labour market about to face another upheaval in terms of the earning power of specific jobs and professions?
Hybrid or remote, here's how to work remotely with your team.
All these considerations are probably contributing to what many are calling the Great Resignation. Workers are quitting jobs because they want to have a say about where, how, and when they work. For their part, leaders are struggling to make decisions during this period of upheaval. For sure, they will need to take decisions that line up with the wishes of the workforce. If they don’t align, the outcomes may well cause another revolution...
Looking to find your ideal place in the world of work? Search with the team at Ceek! We have a variety of office/hybrid/remote jobs here in Malta. Register with us today! And if you're an employer, looking for remote/face-to-face/hybrid workers, feel free to get in contact with us to see how we can help...