Q and A with the experts: Is working from home possible for everyone?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Person working at laptop in home setting

Twitter, Facebook, Shopify – these are just a few examples of large companies that have indicated that even after the pandemic, their employees will continue to work from home.

But is working from home good for everyone, and every company?

Ellen MacEachen is a founder of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy and an expert in how work adapts to fast-changing economic, social, and technological environments. She answers our questions here. 

What does working from home mean for those with disabilities? Does it make working easier?

For some people with physical disabilities, WFH levels the playing field. That is, because they are working at a distance, people who can’t simply hop on a bus or climb the front steps of a building now don’t need to navigate complex travel arrangements to get from A to B.  Stigma often surrounds visible disabilities and so, depending on the nature of the condition, this might be reduced when a person is viewed only through a camera angle.  WFH can provide more flexible working hours and this might work in the favour of people with pain conditions, allowing them to take a break when needed. Indeed, people with disabilities are disproportionately self-employed largely due to the control this gives them over their own schedule, which they need in order to manage their health conditions. 

Mental health is another issue. The lack of social contact and isolation time can exacerbate some conditions.  

Does working from home mean that employees are less engaged in the jobs?

Not necessarily. Managers will have to oversee workers in different ways when they work from home. WFH has, until now, been mainly the purview of artists and knowledge workers. For these groups, with project- and deadline-based work, productivity won’t be very affected whether or not people WFH. For other types of work, managerial oversight will have to be different than in-person meetings. For instance, managers might have daily morning video-meetings with the team so that they can all touch base and go over coordination of issues and targets for the day.  

Is working from home sustainable for the long term? Can non-tech companies manage it?

Yes. I see us making a swing toward WFH across sectors. This will be particularly attractive to employers as a cost-saving approach (no more buildings to rent). It will also be attractive to many workers, seeming to offer a new level of freedom and eliminating commute times. However, WFH may not work for everyone. Consider lower income-earners who don’t have resources or space to have a good office set-up. Consider people in small apartments with family around, or people who have to work from the kitchen table, or people who live in areas with poor Wi-Fi connectivity.

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