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How might working from home affect your team?

Hong Qianyi
Hong Qianyi

May 15, 2020

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Challenges leaders should be aware of as work-from-home arrangements continue

A woman typing on a laptop working from home
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Likelihood of a continuation of work-from-home arrangements

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, most firms had already implemented work-from-home arrangements for their employees to prevent the spread of the virus in our community. As a result, communications among staff and employees have to be taken online; meetings and conference calls have to be held virtually via platforms such as Zoom and Hangouts, discussions have to be done via asynchronous communication spaces like Slack, Teams and DingTalk.

With the increased usage of online communication software, employers may become more open to the idea of continuing remote working arrangements as long as employees complete their work. Employees are also happy with work-from-home arrangements; according to a survey by EngageRocket in partnership with the Singapore HR Institute and the Institute for HR Professionals, 80% of respondents are keen to continue with work-from-home arrangements for at least half the time after the “circuit breaker” rules are lifted in Singapore.

“(E)mployees seem to have adapted to working from home and are keen to continue with the arrangements.” — Mr Leong Chee Tung, chief executive and co-founder of EngageRocket.
A woman stretching her body waking up on bed
Photo by bruce mars via Unsplash

Working from home may sound like a wonderful idea — waking up an hour later than usual, not having to worry about getting to your workplace on time during peak hours, and not having to dress up as you can literally be in pyjamas. I spoke with a few people about continuing work-from-home arrangements for a long period of time and one of them expressed a strong desire for things to remain this way because he finds time spent on commuting a waste of time and some others felt that it is easier for them to concentrate on tasks and be more productive. It may actually be the case whereby employers continue to ask their employees to stay at home even after the outbreak if employers and employees find it comfortable with working from home. In fact, Google and Facebook have recently announced that they will let their employees work from home until the end of 2020.

Work-from-home arrangements have different impacts on employees with different personalities

However, the idea of working from home may not be fantastic for everyone. It would definitely suit introverts as they tend to recharge best by having time when they don’t have to interact with others. However, behavioural scientist Francesca Gino from the Harvard Business School reveals that extroverts tend to draw their energy from positive interactions with other people, such as personal interactions and social gathering, and they may find work-from-home arrangements difficult. In fact, it could have an adverse impact on their work productivity and taking a toll on their mental health. As an ambivert (50% introvert, 50% extrovert) myself, I feel mentally drained and restless because I am not able to have in-person interactions with people.

A woman biting a pencil while staring at a laptop
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Psychological proximity is important to good team synergy

Zoom fatigue” is a real thing. Virtual meetings can be more energy-consuming and less impactful than in-person meetings. A/P Gianpiero Petriglieri at INSEAD mentioned that being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat because you would need to process non-verbal cues such as facial expressions from only a small image on-screen and that can consume a lot of energy. Some people may actually enjoy the convenience of having virtual meetings while others may find it difficult to relax into the conversation naturally.

“Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting.” — A/P Gianpiero Petriglieri, INSEAD

Because of that, it can be difficult to forge close relationships with your team members virtually. When you are in the office together, it is possible to strike casual conversations with your team members during lunch hour or breaks. As collaborations and discussions are brought online, the amount of interaction with your team members gets limited as it is not common for employees to conduct virtual meetings for non-work purposes.

A group of office people staring at a laptop cheerfully
Photo by Windows on Unsplash

Difficulty in forging and nurturing close relationships with team members can have an adverse impact on a team’s synergy and performance. Collaborative projects often involve multiple social and work-oriented hurdles for the team to overcome together and frequent communication is needed. In such cases, close-knit relationships with other employees can directly improve morale which leads to better work attitude and performance.

Without lunch breaks and watercooler chats, it is important for leaders to find other ways to facilitate non-work communications within the team because employees need to gain fondness of one another and find compatibility among themselves for them to work better as a team. Now that work-from-home arrangements may continue to some degree well into the future, creating psychological proximity is a crucial item on every leader’s to-do list.

Check out Part II to this article for some tips on how you can create psychological proximity within your team members amidst work-from-home arrangements.

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