The nature of job-related tasks, meetings, or interactions with colleagues has undergone serious changes since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, remote work has become a new normal for many employees.
While being able to work from home is a privilege for some, there are costs to consider, to say, loneliness or the reduction of on-the-job learning. However, it is not a binary choice. Some people do their best work when they work from home while others just cannot.
The Business Standard reached out to several top executives of major Bangladeshi companies to know if remote work has been worthwhile. They shared their opinions and insight into the remote working experience and its impact on productivity in recent months. They have also weighed in on at-home arrangements, office reopenings and the future of work.
Emran Hasan, CEO at Shanta Asset Management Limited
Our team did a great job of working from home. We as an investment management service-based organisation need to depend on vigorous economic and financial research. Working from home helped the research and back offices to focus more on their tasks without distraction.
Better focus is a major advantage. Along with that, working while wearing casual comfortable outfits, flexibility in allocating time and no time lost in traffic are added advantages.
On the other hand, working from home can be a major disadvantage for the front office when it needs to communicate with the clients/stakeholders regularly. Although there is virtual communication available, in most of the cases where persuasion/negotiation is necessary, we found that digital communication is not as effective as physical communication.
Still, working from home has improved the work-life balance of the staff in most of the cases. That is because people got the opportunity to stay close to their family and save time and energy by avoiding the hectic traffic of Dhaka.
Like anything, there are pros and cons to remote work. It makes you more focused and creative if you manage to work in isolation at home. Simultaneously, virtual communication from home is less effective than face-to-face communication. So executives who are responsible for persuading and negotiating with clients may face some challenges.
Kaiser Kabir, CEO at Renata Limited
As Renata Limited is in the business of healthcare, we had to keep our operations open. As a result, about half of the head-office staff worked from home for only two months. Interestingly, most of us did not enjoy working from home.
Obviously, avoiding traffic was the main advantage of remote work. Additionally, we also got more comfortable video-conferencing with people stationed outside Dhaka. Apart from these two advantages, we all missed working alongside our colleagues.
After the pandemic, we might still let some contract-employees to permanently work from home.
As many Renata employees are used to working at home after office hours, the remote work experience has little impact on their work-life balance.
Our manufacturing, sales, distribution, and research and development departments continued to work from their respective workplaces as we had elaborate safety-protocols in place.
Rupali Chowdhury, MD at Berger Paints Bangladesh Limited
It is a 'new' experience to say the least.
Firstly, even though it took us some time to get used to having online meetings, we got the hang of it soon enough. While working at home, home and work responsibilities can intermingle which can become challenging at times.
The biggest advantage of remote work in the local context is saving time commuting to and from work. It makes people more productive. Companies are also saving overhead costs in terms of power usage, utility costs, travel costs, etc.
The biggest disadvantage for me is that there is no limit to when work ends. If one is not conscious or disciplined enough, work may overflow into our time at home and create stress.
One needs to be disciplined enough to separate work from home by establishing working-from-home set-ups. Otherwise, there will be unwanted encroachment of work into one's life at home and vice versa. So, drawing the line is important.
Moreover, remote work can also induce a feeling of isolation and loneliness, so one has to put more effort to stay connected with colleagues since break time or lunchtime chit chat ceases to exist when you are working from home.
After the pandemic, we plan to go back to pre-pandemic working norms. However, the experience of the pandemic can be applied around designing certain jobs with more flexibility.
Despite the initial impact of the pandemic, we have been operating at productivity which is equal to pre-pandemic time if not higher.
Md Akter Hossain Sannamat, CEO at Omera Fuels Limited
There is no denying the fact that the pandemic has changed the style of work in many departments and many sectors. This crisis has clearly shown that being able to get online was a crucial determinant for employees to continue working.
Undoubtedly, I enjoyed the flexibility and distraction-free atmosphere that working from home allows. It allowed me to complete my daily responsibilities by the end of my office hours which helped me establish a better work-life balance.
Additionally, since I was able to set my own hours, I had more time to do my job diligently while being able to spend more time with my family. The employees' quality of life has also improved. But at the same time, for executives and managers, remote work has made work-life balance even less achievable as working from home erased the boundaries between the time that should be dedicated to working and the time that should be reserved for their families.
Working remotely can be a lonely experience as we miss out on the interactions we had with our co-workers. I think this is a significant challenge for many staff.
Farzana Chowdhury, MD & CEO of Green Delta Insurance Company Limited
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to re-do our working format and HR practices accordingly. With a new set of rules in place, we started working from home from late March until September. The experience has been rewarding and challenging at the same time.
For the first month, all we could see were the disadvantages of working from home as regular business operation was halted by the "new normal". However, we gradually overcame that hurdle, adapted our working modules and transformed our services digitally.
Working from home has been a rewarding experience for us considering the time we got to spend with our families. However, there were days when we had to attend meetings one after another and could not spend a minute with our families.
Moreover, as we had to enclose ourselves within four walls 24/7, it became monotonous at a point. Every person needs breathing space and being stuck indoors seven days a week might not be as rewarding for everyone, especially if someone has an outgoing personality.
Even though the pandemic has shown us an alternative path for work in the future, being confined within four walls for months has also taught us that too much anything is never good. It is much more important to strike a balance.
I encountered a study the other day, which showed that the average working hour for most organisations increased by 3-4 hours, which could rather be counterproductive. When people work for long hours without any break, people tend to lose concentration and make more mistakes. So, in my opinion, working from home is productive and efficient if it is done with regular intervals or with alternative roster duties.
Asif Ibrahim, Chairman at the Chittagong Stock Exchange
While we are all experiencing the new normal caused by the pandemic, working from home is certainly a unique experience. As a result, my team and I realised that we could become more productive. Usually, we would spend many hours a day commuting to the office, factory or different meeting which we can now schedule online and get more out of the day.
There are many advantages of remote work. Becoming more efficient through better coordination is certainly on the top of the list. Communication with foreign counterparts is easier as the time difference can be offset by online meetings in the evening or early morning which creates work flexibility.
However, one of the disadvantages of remote work is the lack of in-person interactions that can be crucial for sales-pitch related meetings.
We are encouraged by the results and are thinking of allowing the employees to work from home a few days per week. This will also allow them to spend more quality time with their family.
Certainly, remote work has had a positive impact on the work-life balance of workers. As I mentioned earlier, being able to spend more time with family allows employees to be more relaxed which later makes them more attentive to their assignments and tasks.
Our experience shows that working from home has been an eye-opener for boosting the morale, productivity and efficiency of our back-office employees.