‘Crucial' warning for millions of remote workers

Jessica Yun
·3-min read
(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

The era of remote work has become an accepted reality for businesses around the world – but the OECD is pushing back against this trend amid concerns about productivity and work satisfaction.

While working from home looks to remain a permanent feature of the future work environment, there are still too many unknowns, the intergovernmental economic organisation said in a recent report.

“While more widespread telework in the longer run has the potential to improve productivity and a range of other economic and social indicators (worker well being, gender equality, regional inequalities, housing, emissions), its overall impact is ambiguous and carries risks especially for innovation and worker satisfaction,” the report stated.

OECD’s problem with remote work

During the coronavirus pandemic, several organisations were forced into a remote work model, whether or not the workplace was ready for it or not.

But not everyone has the luxury and the capability of working from home, and this may have had the effect of exacerbating existing inequalities, the report argued.

“For instance, many workers especially young, less educated workers at the bottom of the wage distribution during the crisis worked in jobs requiring physical presence.”

“Telework has been crucial to sustain production during the crisis, but its effects on productivity are unclear. In the short term, compared to the pre-crisis period, the exceptional conditions in which telework was implemented may well have lowered productivity for those who were able to work from home.”

Many workers are stuck working in a home environment that is less than ideal, in spaces that are unsuitable for work and alongside children.

And while a majority of workers intend to work from home more often following the pandemic, collaboration may suffer in other ways: forced spatial difference between employees will impair communication, which might result in lower innovation or an unwanted blend of work and personal life that may lead to hidden overtime, the report said.

Policies will have to be changed in order to maximise productivity and improve worker satisfaction.

“Policies should ensure that teleworking remains a choice. This is to prevent that remote working arrangements are ‘overdone’,” the report said.

In-person communication will remain important for complex tasks, and remote work may diminish collaboration and the quality of this work.

Workplaces should also equip workers with an appropriate home office to improve productivity, as well as a culture adjustment away from presenteeism and more towards a focus on output instead.

Finally, policies should work on providing fast, reliable and secure IT infrastructure to ensure rural areas have the same abilities for remote work and video conferencing as metro-based workers.

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