After a couple of turbulent years, today we can evaluate the significant changes that have taken place in the workplace. The scenarios we have lived through made employers and workers look for new digital solutions that helped them overcome the challenges posed by a global pandemic.
The biggest transformation, facilitated by digitalisation, was the tendency to work remotely; people learned to connect and collaborate as a team, even separately. Of course, it came with its good and bad sides. ExpressVPN’s survey collected data from more than 2000 employers and employees who worked remotely, stating some interesting results worth reading.
In the recently published book “Telework in the 21st century: An evolutionary perspective”, it was stated that the “home office” became popular in the beginning, since the availability of technology opened up the opportunity to work outside the company.
The “mobile office” was the second term used by specialists, as cell phones, laptops and tablets meant that remote work no longer had to be done exclusively from home, but from any place where there was an Internet or data network connection.
In the last stage it evolved to the “virtual office”, which expands the previous concept with the emergence of smartphones and the ability to have information in the cloud storage.
The reality is that this new way of working has also revolutionised technology and has made most people want to keep it permanently. For example, a study by the International Labour Organization published that Canada’s multinational financial services bank employed some 45,000 people in 2020, of whom only 5% worked remotely before the crisis caused by COVID-19. This pandemic prompted the institution to do a general reassessment of its workplace policies and it was estimated that up to 80% of the staff (around 36,000 employees) could adopt new flexible working arrangements that combine working from home with working from the office.
Similar strategies are implemented by the multinational company HP, in which workers are only required to come to the office one day a week and the company has offered them a bonus so that they can have a good workspace at home.
Challenges of remote work
For the time being, the new work environment, in addition to proving to be a viable way to achieve greater efficiency and optimisation of resources for both private companies and the public administration, also poses significant challenges. From guaranteeing security to the conditions of the workplace itself: connectivity, work-life balance or who bears the costs derived from the work activity.
Also controversial are the measures being used by many companies to control telecommuting. According to previously mentioned ExpressVPN survey, one of the most debated measures is activity monitoring through the implementation of software that makes it possible to control connection time, the time spent at work, take screenshots of the employee’s screen every now and then, track the cell phone’s GPS, see which websites are visited or measure the speed with which they carry out the tasks assigned to them.
The research reveals its negative consequences, such as negative impacts on job satisfaction, stress levels and relationships with their employers, and also the violation of privacy – as when you have so much access to employees’ data and digital activity, you will inevitably come across personal material, such as bank account information, medical records or deeply private emails, which can be hacked.
These scenarios force telecommuters to negotiate with the companies that hire them the possibility of establishing a surveillance system based on less intrusive methods and measures, and the existence of adequate safeguards in the employer’s monitoring operations, especially when they are intrusive in nature.
Undoubtedly, digital transformation and collaborative tools have facilitated the rapid expansion of remote work and its advantages, but they are also generating numerous conflicts in the workplace, such as corporate control, the use of new technologies by different generations, the use of social networks at work, data protection, etc.
As it currently seems almost impossible to put this new era in labour relations back in a bottle, it is urgent to implement more balanced legislation and hybrid work schemes that allow new ways of connecting and collaborating in a satisfactory way, both for the interests of employees and employers.