Working from home An “invasive alternative” to social interaction

Work at home. Photo by Pexels coat

SAfricans closed the hatches again after the announcement over the weekend that the country would be placed under Level 4 lock adjusted. With somewhat glacial progress in the vaccine deployment, citizens must do what they can to protect themselves from the virus.

This means more virtual meetings and what many local and international experts and commentators are calling “zoom fatigue‘. This has been one of the biggest complaints among employees in organizations around the world. In countries where the majority of citizens have been vaccinated against the virus, this return to the office is well underway.

Zoom fatigue is just one problem with working from home. Efficiency, productivity and social signals suffer as a result.

There are several downsides to working from home, including that as social beings people can no longer interact in any meaningful way. This has a negative impact on efficiency and productivity.

Barnes recently spoke to Linda Trim of the Giant Leap, a South African workplace specialist, during a podcast series titled ‘Where’s the Office’. Giant Leap has undertaken extensive research over the past year to determine the office’s future since the lockdown.

Marc Barnes
Marc Barnes. Image source: ENCA

Longer working hours

According to Barnes, as people no longer spend time commuting to and from desks or dealing with the inconvenience of sitting in traffic, there is a definite shift in the way people work. You are constantly in demand and work more hours than ever. It is an invasive alternative to social interaction. We are in back-to-back meetings, there is no time for lunch, no after-work drinks or gathering for coffee.

Lack of social cues and body language

Barnes is struggling to log into the new virtual office space. You can’t see social cues like hand gestures or read body language. These are all essential elements of communication within organizations.

Talking on a flat screen is nowhere near as interactive as seeing people in a room and getting a feel for the room one on one.

The ineffectiveness of perceived efficiency

Working from home is seen by some to improve efficiency, but Barnes believes it doesn’t produce the same consistent result that a team normally would when working in the office. The sum of the screens is not the sum of the individuals, demystifying the perception that employees who virtually show up are as engaged as meeting and collaborating in person.

In addition, Barnes criticizes the general view that technology improves the way people work and positively enables the new working from home. We believe that technology makes our lives easier, but there is a two way invasion of technology. We don’t use technology: technology uses us.

Office culture and socialization

Barnes argues that the hybrid model of home and office work isn’t enough either.

The current calm in the office is disarming and unsettling. People are in defined spaces, and we are aware of our space and the distance between us. These things are not pleasant. We are naturally social beings. We love to be together, shake hands, kiss each other, say howzit. We miss it.

The office gives us the opportunity to engender the spirit and change things that are not on the surface but rather something deeper – culture and unity, the feeling of being part of a team.

  • Marc Barnes is the founder of Purple Group and former South African Post Office CE

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