Many employers in Malaysia have adopted the working from home policy since the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO). While both employers and employees are gradually adjusting to this new normal, what are the differences between working from home (WFH) and working from office (WFO)? Which one actually gives you better productivity? Read this article to find out.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe early this year, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the future of work, as lockdowns and social distancing measures become a mainstay of our lives.
In the wake of the virus, companies are forced to reimagine the way employees work, and the traditional roles of offices, and though the debate on remote working productivity is not new, the topic is once again under the microscope.
COVID-19 has also accelerated the inevitable remote working revolution, as more employers around the world are considering extending work from home (WFH) options in case of any surge in coronavirus cases - Google recently announced it will let employees work from home until at least July 2021.
Closer to home, a majority of the Malaysian workforce is supportive of work from home arrangements based on a survey conducted by KPMG in Malaysia from 7 April to 19 May 2020 during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. Out of 3,022 respondents, 69% say work from home should continue post MCO as part of the new normal arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As countries continue to relax their lockdown measures, we analyze whether working from home or working in the office is the better option, so you can make a more informed decision.
Pros of working from home
In today’s new normal, many companies are now choosing to have employees work from home.
1. Freedom at last! - Working from home is the true mark of independent working as you will be away from colleagues and your manager. But there’s more to being independent than just working in your PJs - you’ll need to be a self-starter, self-motivated, highly-disciplined, and focused to be able to work with minimal guidance and supervision. Your time management skills will be put to the test when you work from home. Some suggest that working from home may be more productive for those who are more focused.
2. Much more can be done - Omit the hours spent on commuting, chatting with co-workers, interruptions in the office and office lunches, you’ll start to realize that you have more time for yourself and your work.
3. Work wherever you please - Not feeling like working at your desk today? Well working from home lets you work on your couch, bean bag, or at your local cafe - wherever that’s equipped with good wifi.
4. Flexibility - Not a morning person? Or are you more productive at night? Working from home lets you skip the conventional 9-5, and gives you the flexibility of choosing your working hours, be it day or night. Some people are just wired to be more motivated, efficient, creative at odd hours.
5. Work-life balance - Perhaps you’re tired of missing your child’s recital every now and then or you’ve been taking one too many rain checks on loved ones. Working from home gives you the flexibility of working on the weekend to make up for the weekday that you used to attend a special occasion. This way, you get to integrate your social and personal life with your working life in a healthy way.
6. Less stress - Let’s face it, work can get stressful, but we all gotta do it because we need to pay those bills. But working from home gives you the flexibility of working from the comfort of your own space.
7. More ‘me’ time - A joy for all the introverts who crave for this the most. Most of your work no longer revolves around the schedules of others - this means more time for extra shuteye or more time for yourself when enjoying breakfast. Working from home lets you start your day on the right foot without having to rush to the office.
8. You are in control - Don’t like the horrid commute? Not a fan of the cubicle walls at work? Well working from home lets you create your own corner for work. It also lets you define your own working hours.
Cons of working from home
Working from home can be stressful if the lines of communication are not clear or blurred.
1. Solitary confinement - If you’re an extrovert, the thought of being cooped up at home for 8 hours, 5 days a week, may just drive you a little nuts. As a social creature, you need your daily dose of connection and interaction.
2. No structure - If you’re someone who needs more structure in life, you probably find the daily commute and going to the office routine as a necessity to keep you disciplined and focused on the daily tasks ahead. This is especially true for people who prefer to keep work strictly out of their home.
3. Technical glitches - Imagine you’re 10 minutes into work and then suddenly the internet cuts off, and then you won’t be able to get it back on running until the next 3 hours. One of the tradeoffs of working at home is not having the same access to tech support that you would usually get at an office setting. Working from home may also prevent full access to technology platforms due to data security or consumer protection.
4. A cycle of never ending work - The downside of working from home is that you may lose track of time and space, and end up working later into the evening not realizing what time it is. For some people, there needs to be a clear distinction between work and personal life, and they will do whatever it takes to prevent the two bleeding together.
Pros of working in the office
Teamwork makes the dream work - working with others in the office teaches you how to deal and communicate with others.
1. Time management - The conventional 9-5 may work for those who need more structure in their lives. Let’s face it: as humans we don’t always have our lives together, and it's things like this (going to work) that helps give our lives more stability and structure. This may be particularly helpful for folks who prefer to follow set working hours, which may also teach you how to manage time better - being productive when you need to at work, and relax when work is over.
2. Creating meaningful relationships - Some people meet their lifelong friends from an office setting. Working and being with the same people forces you to have conversations with them. Sure, you won’t connect with everyone, but eventually you’ll find one or two that sticks. Offices are great breeding grounds for making friends and establishing professional relationships with others.
3. Learning and growth opportunities - Being in the office can help teach you how to conduct yourself in a professional setting. You will automatically learn how to carry yourself in the best possible way with people from different backgrounds. You could also expand your knowledge by learning from others. Working in the office is also a good opportunity to pick up a mentor and develop yourself.
4. You’ll appreciate holidays much more - Since offices will close during holidays, you get to appreciate and enjoy your holidays better.
5. Be in the know - Catching up with the latest company updates and meetings will help you feel more connected with your employer. You could also do that via the company intranet, but it won’t feel the same to receiving updates on site.
6. Motivated to grow - Being around intelligent people (hopefully!) might motivate you to excel and do better. And let's face it, nobody wants to be that employee who is known for slacking or underperforming.
Cons of working in the office
Working in the office can expose you to more stressful situations.
1. Exposure to COVID-19 - Although the number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia has gone down exponentially over the past few months, we have still been seeing on and off double digit growth over the last few weeks. Besides the use of masks and social distancing, employers can play a crucial role in the fight against the virus by allowing employees to work from home, thus avoiding potential infections while commuting, at work and while going out for lunch.
2. The commute - No one enjoys being stuck in a long traffic jam on the way to work. Not only is it a waste of time and money, it’s also bad for the environment. The dreaded commute is often the biggest turn off for people and is a large reason why they start their day on the wrong footing.
3. Encourages a sedentary lifestyle - Sitting at your desk all day is not good for your body, your mind and your mood. Not only do you develop habits of a lazy person, you also end up straining your neck and back.
4. Relationships are not often rosy - Unlike friends, who you get to choose, you don’t get to choose who you work with. These forced relationships don’t often work out and can cause conflicts like favouritism, constant disagreements or just a mismatch of personalities.
5. Health - Not feeling well but you don’t qualify for a health certificate? Employees are often left in a limbo when it comes to their health and going to the office. Some days you might not be feeling super, but it doesn’t warrant a health certificate - this is where working from home would seem like the more flexible and handy option.
6. All the interruptions - though open spaces have been cited as a good way to connect and collaborate with others, it can undeniably result in a lot of interruptions and distractions.
Still not sure which is the better choice? Well, beyond just the quick pros and cons, there are other factors to consider when choosing between the two that are not so clear cut, we discussed it further below.
Choose a place where you feel more engaged
Whether it’s in the office or at home, at the end of the day, employers want their employees to be productive and engaged at work in order to produce their best work.
A study from Gallup reveals that engagement increases when employees spend some time working remotely and some time working in a location with their coworkers - or more specifically three to four days working off-site.
And thanks to technology, there are more sophisticated work-from-home applications like video conferences, cloud collaboration software, and other technological softwares that can make almost any office job to be done completely remotely.
The key here is to find a balance between working independently and getting face time with managers and coworkers. In the study, remote workers also say they make a lot of progress in their day when working off site.
The autonomy and flexibility given to employees could help lead to better performance and make employees feel more connected to their company.
The verdict: A pro for both
In this context, there’s no yes or no for either remote working or office working because it’s more important to do a thorough self-assessment on how one’s productivity is affected by either conditions.
Choose a place where you positively impact the environment
Billions of people commute to work daily - so imagine the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that is released into the atmosphere.
Recognizing the long-term repercussions of this, global companies like Xerox, Dell and Aetna have all embraced remote working and have reportedly cumulatively saved 95.294 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions —equivalent to taking 20,000 passenger vehicles off the road.
According to Global Workforce Analytics, people whose jobs could be done remotely can save up to US$20 million (RM85 million) per year. (Image source: Cisco)
Virtual workers not only get to shrink their carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the environment, they can also save time and money, and all in all develop a healthier work-life integration.
Beyond just reducing carbon footprint, working from home could help reduce air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
Working from home also means you are just a few steps away from your kitchen, this can help reduce the likelihood of spending on breakfast and lunch or coffee and tea - hence possibly reducing the use of single-use plastic food containers, bags, or cutlery. This helps eliminate both food and plastic waste when you utilize your own cups, cutlery, and plates for eating and drinking throughout the day.
But you can still be conscious of the environment in the office as well. For starters, you may want to consider taking public transport or car pooling to work if it’s within your means. Both methods can contribute to the reduction of your overall carbon footprint.
And the effort to go green doesn’t end on the way to work. You can also try other good practices like going paperless where possible, dimming or switching off the lights or electronics when not in use, and using recycled material. These are all easy ways that don’t cost anything.
The verdict: It was close, but it’s a pro for working from home
Though it could be a pro for both working from home and office work, data clearly shows remote working could reduce carbon footprint, and overall, reduce cost from petrol, eating out, tolls, parking etc. The cons would be a hike in electricity and internet bills but those could be tradeoffs for other costs.
Choose the space that helps you feel more productive
Is it more productive to work in the office or at home? A survey by the Manifest, providers of data-driven benchmarks for small business, revealed that 30% of employees are more productive working from home, compared to 45% in an office. But the study surveyed 365 workers across the U.S.
Though there isn’t a direct survey comparison, other surveys in Malaysia have revealed that working from home posed multiple challenges for the Malaysian workforce, indicating that it may not be the most productive option for many Malaysians.
A survey by KPMG revealed that 64% of respondents faced challenges while working from home, with the top three difficulties being network issues (61%), communication barriers (14%), and lack of technology readiness (10%).
Another survey by market research company Vase.ai, an on-demand market research platform, shows that 77% Malaysians say it is challenging for them to work from home. Their top three reasons were cited as unstable internet connection (35%), challenges communicating with their employees or team members online (31%), and difficulties accessing data they need from the office database (28%).
Only 9% of Malaysian respondents feel it is more productive to work from home according to Vase.ai. (Image source: Vase.ai)
But Chan Siew Mei, KPMG’s Head of Advisory in Malaysia, said in the report, that “irrespective of readiness or desire, this pandemic has boosted the WFH movement to be a required reality for the masses,” and that “committed leadership from the top is required to help employees quickly overcome the challenges to adapt to this new normal.”
KPMG data and analytics also show a direct correlation between productivity levels and the capacity/capability of communication platforms and the readiness of individuals to adopt technology (see table below).
|Top 3 WFH challenges||% of respondents||Reduction in productivity|
|Network issues||61%||Þ 9%|
|Communication barriers||14%||Þ 23%|
|Lack of technology readiness||10%||Þ 24%|
The KPMG survey shows that respondents who leveraged on collaboration tools (such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc.) as their main mode of communication while working from home reported the highest productivity levels (77%) compared to other modes of communication. (Image source: KPMG)
If you choose to work from home, you could try to boost your productivity by designating an area at home specifically for working. Having a dedicated space will help keep you focused on the task at hand.
You could also structure your day so it resembles normal working hours - this means defining clear start and finish hours.
Take breaks - if you have traditionally been working in the office, your body may not be primed to be working at home. This usually leads to non-stop working hours when you get too engrossed in the work. Try breaking your work into intervals and take 5 minute breaks in between.
Limit distractions - if you are prone to heading to the kitchen every 5 minutes, perhaps move your working space away from the kitchen. If you have kids, keep them occupied with their own activity like drawing or playing toys.
Keep the communication clear - Effective and clear communication continues to be a challenge in many offices, so you can only imagine how it may be a problem if you are working remotely. But thanks to the development of so many apps and software designed for instant and seamless remote communication, regular communication with co-workers is possible. Remember that it’s the onus of the employee to communicate what they’re doing and what they’re accomplishing.
The verdict: A clear pro for working in the office, and a con for working at home
Okay, you may be thinking... what?! But hear us out. Undeniably the findings are quite subjective for both surveys as many factors have influenced the results. For instance, if companies were to adopt working from home arrangements before the pandemic, they would have more time to prepare and educate their employees to be able to adapt better. But circumstances didn’t really permit that.
Most times, you don’t really have a choice
Depending on the nature of your job, the industry, and culture of the organization you are from, a majority of the workforce don’t really have the option to choose between working from home or remotely or going to the office. For instance, some jobs will require you to be physically present in order for it to be carried out, i.e. doctors or cashiers etc.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has presented organizations and management the rare opportunity to really weigh in the pros and cons between the two options now that social distancing is part of the new normal.
Due to lockdowns, organizations not only had to adapt and allow their employees to work from home, many are now considering remote working options in the near future as a way to keep employees safe from the pandemic.
There’s no definite answer between working from home and working in the office because both have their own pros and cons, the most important thing to remember for both companies and employees is to advocate for the working condition that is most efficient and productive for all involved.