Price of digital nomad culture to employer, employeeWritten by Muhamad Sayuti Mansor
The term "Work From Home" (WFH) came to prominence in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. To curb the spread of the virus, with repeated enforcements of the Movement Control Order, working from home seems to be the most viable option.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that WFH is now considered the "new normal", it is interesting to note that this phenomenon is not at all new. Working from home was the status quo ante of human society in the past.
For example, according to a census conducted in the 1900s in France, there were more than 1.5 million home-based workers. The same can be argued in Malaya during those times where the majority of the people were farmers, craftsmen, or small-scale merchants operating from their homes or shophouses.
It was only at the advent of industrial society that rapid changes happened to this trend. The newly set up factories, large-scale farms and mega business outlets have led to a massive migration of workers to big cities. These workers are now required to observe fixed working hours, standard labour wages, and daily commute back and forth from their workplaces.
Despite the lack of flexibility found in home-based work, workers are now enjoying greater sense of privacy, with a clear demarcation between their public work duties and private lives.
Put it another way, when you work in a factory, you know when the day is over and you could be truly at home during off-hours. In this regard, the decline of home-based work translates into greater privacy and enjoyment of private life.
Notwithstanding "the only constant in life is change", as the saying goes, fast forward to our modern times, we are once again at a crossroads. The breakneck pace of development of science and technology has made the work from home lifestyle possible all over again.
The digital nomad lifestyle is now gaining currency worldwide. Therefore, it only took a little push from the Covid-19 pandemic to overturn our conventional way of working from a designated workspace called the office.
What began as a contingency plan to mitigate the spread of the virus now happens to be a feasible option, with many companies already opting for WFH mode, or a hybrid. With our current condition, it is unlikely that WFH will subside in the foreseeable future. WFH is here to stay.
Unfortunately, WFH is not without a price. Although that means greater flexibility, and eliminates the commuting hassles on the side of the employee while reducing the cost of office maintenance to the employer, all of these come at the expense of the private life of the individual employee.
WFH also means that there is no distinction between living and working, and between the private life of the worker and his public duties. On the other hand, flexible working hours can also mean dragging and completing one's tasks until late, burning the midnight oil. Hence, an irony might be noted here that a person who works at home also ceases to have a home!
Besides, WFH is also a luxury not everyone can afford. For the less fortunate employees, especially those in lower-income jobs, WFH might be a nightmare as they do not enjoy a suitable workspace at their homes. Some of them also live in crowded areas or constricted residences shared with other family members.
In sum, we need to be more considerate of this WFH culture. On the side of the employers, they need to give ample time to their employees to adapt to these unprecedented changes. As disruptions to the normal workflow and pace are expected, more reasonable and effective supervision may be called for.
They might also want to provide some assistance to their underprivileged staff, such as providing home office appliances. While on the side of the employees, first of all, they need to re-calibrate their mindset to adapt to this new environment.
They should allocate some time for their private life to achieve a work-life balance. And secondly, they have to be realistic and careful not to fall into the habit of blaming themselves for every drop in their performance, for example.
Last but not least, they need to have a strong sense of amanah (trustworthiness) in doing their work even without close supervision from their employer.
The writer is an Analyst at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.Published in New Straits Times on Wednesday, 12 May 2021.
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