Dr. Ruchi Sinha, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour & Management at the University of South Australia shares her opinions on the ways in which people can balance work and life in the aftermath of the coronavirus.
Sputnik: Does working from home have an effect on productivity?
Ruchi Sinha: We know a bit about how working from home affected productivity prior to the COVID pandemic. So the few things we know from research in that there isn't a drop in productivity. On an average the productivity is maintained with a small population of workers being more productive. So there is no evidence that flexible work arrangements, one of which is working from home, there are other ways in which this research was done, they looked at staggered work schedules and more flexibility. So when people have more control over their schedule when they're working from home or not, there isn't a drop in productivity. So we do know that from research.
Sputnik: How does working from home affect people's mental well being or does it give them a better work life balance?
Ruchi Sinha: Work is part of life, and I know we talk about work life balance, but I think it's important to understand that you are balancing multiple domains of your life. There are different groups of people who have different domains that are salient. So, in order to answer that question, I would say broadly if life had a work domain, a family domain, a household management domain, caretaker domain and a romantic relationship domain, balancing all of these domains is what I think you're trying to get at and the thing we know is that there can be spillover from one domain to another.
This kind of spillover can be of stress, it can be of emotions, it can be behaviours. So having given you that context, the shorter answer to the question is that when boundaries are blurred between domains, it is more likely that people are going to carry emotions, behaviours and thoughts from one to another. So balance would then mean identifying how to transition between these different roles we play in life.
Sputnik: Obviously, the situation a lot of people are in right now is abnormal with not being able to be outside and exercise as much as usual. But if people are working from home more regularly, does that affect people's physical health?
Ruchi Sinha: Absolutely, there is research that shows in general, pre pandemic, that when people sit for long hours in awkward positions in general for long hours in front of the screen, that that is connected with a lot of physical health issues. Everything from damaged retina with eyesight issues to back pains and stress injuries. So none of those physical ill effects of excessively long hours of work have gone away if that is how people are spending time when they're working at home. We also know that working at home gives people easier access to their pantry and snacks. There can be the potential of over eating when you're working from home.
However, there is a counter set of studies that show and we know that when you have flexibility in your work schedules, you can take out small bursts of time to do things around the house. You can throw in that extra laundry, vacuum your house, go for a quick walk or take your dog for a walk. So we know that even those small 10 to 20 minute bursts of exercise and activity can have positive effects on your health. So again, the shorter answer to your question is whether you're going to be fitter or less fit. If you're working from home, I think it depends on one how much choice you have over your schedule. Whether you can take those breaks, how much support do you have from your organisation in terms of economically designed furniture, workspaces, lighting and the choices you make with your time.
Sputnik: UK Prime Minister has encouraged people to get back to their desks. Now, going forward, do you think there could be a change in cultures where we're more encouraged to be flexible or working from home? Or do you think we will see a return to this workplace dynamic people returning in mass to the office?
Ruchi Sinha: Getting back to your desk is one way in which most leaders and people deal with post crisis is to try and get some sort of normalcy back. And oftentimes normalcy is seen as going back to how things were. However, I think and based on crisis research, a lot of these pandemics and crisis that we face are actually opportunities to question some of the things rather than going back to tradition.
We've already seen that happening, because for a very long time big companies or big organisations, were not ready to take that leap, where they suddenly have 90% or hundred percent of their employees working from home in flexible arrangements. They never had any data to ever support such a big transformation. But now that the COVID has pushed everyone and without a choice, there can be a lot of cost saving, there can be a lot of actual increase in worker engagement if people are given choice of how they want to return back to work.
So again, I want to make it clear that there may be many who would prefer coming back to their desks who might actually think that that is what will keep them productive, they might even be working in certain jobs where it's not possible. I think the biggest thing we can take away from this is give people a choice on how they want to transition back to work and be more open rather than trying to achieve a normalcy that was based on tradition.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.