Thailand is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that necessitated working from home for many companies. The lockdown has been partially lifted in June, and the government has set July 1 as the end of the lockdown in Thailand, with the exception of international flights, which will still face restrictions. The government has since warned that a rise in the number of new infections in Thailand would warrant scrapping the plan to end the lockdown. Pubs, nightclubs theatres and boxing stadiums are among the close-contact venues that the government will continue to monitor closely after July 1.
In the business community, companies had to adjust the schedules of their workers to allow those that could to work from home. The forced reality of a WFH method of operation posed some interesting questions for the managers of many companies in Thailand who were new to the whole WFH concept.
Would it be a disruption to their work processes? Would it affect their corporate culture? Would employees suffer?
Gensler, an international architectural firm and research institute with offices in Bangkok among many other cities, surveyed their employees to find out the answers to these questions and more. They studied their employees working from home in Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Bangkok, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.
Gensler is also the firm who performed the interior-design work for the offices and co-working space of True Digital Park.
The results of this survey revealed some interesting results that will be of value to any company looking at continuing the WFH operation model.
Overall, 68% of the workers surveyed were satisfied with a work from home operation model. Those who had administrative jobs reported the highest satisfaction, and office directors and managers reported the lowest satisfaction.
This reflects that those with jobs that don't take a lot of supervision were more easily able to transition to the WFH operation model than those whose roles were to manage employees. The latter group of managers and directors rely on face-to-face meetings and engaging with the employees as a part of their job. This also suggests that while email, phone conferences and video conferences partially filled the gap during the lockdown period, it was not a complete solution for managers and directors.
Employees, for the large part, enjoyed the trust of the company to get their job done and rose to the challenges of this new reality.
The majority of the employees surveyed (67%) reported they felt more productive, empowered and engaged when working from home. They were less distracted and could concentrate on the task at hand better. The workers who shared a home with family or roommates were more distracted but less stressed. The easing of stress made them feel more productive over the long-term.
Employees were generally happy to have more freedom in the way they structured their workday. By arranging their day in the manner that best suited their lifestyle, they felt it was easier to accomplish their work more efficiently.
As mentioned above, people whose job it is to monitor the work of others felt the most stress during the lockdown period. This may be because they felt a loss of control. And controlling the workflow is a large part of their job descriptions. It may also be because the pandemic presented an overall business disruption that threatened the workflow and future of the company.
People who shared their living quarters with others also reported higher levels of stress. They had to take into account other resident’s needs and make adjustments to their work habits. This, along with the underlying uncertainly and fear caused by the pandemic, undoubtedly caused friction in their home life, leading to increased stress levels.
Half of the employees surveyed reported a positive impact on family life due to working from home. This is somewhat surprising as the needs of children can be disrupting to parents trying to work and deal with home life at the same time.
But employees with children older than 12-years of age reported a higher level of satisfaction with their home life. They had more opportunities to engage with their children, and their stress levels eased because they knew what their children were up to and how they spent their days while in lockdown.
Their work/life balance was improved by the lack of a commute and the flexibility afforded by a work from home lifestyle.
Every company wants to establish a corporate culture. The culture creates a sense of camaraderie among employees, encourages them to work towards a common goal, and develops a collaborative work environment.
The top three aspects that were missed the most by employees working from home were the ability to socialise with co-workers (64%), impromptu face-to-face meetings (57%), and a permanent, ergonomic place to work (51%).
One of the most significant aspects recognized by managers and directors was a drop-off in the ongoing learning processes and personal development of the workplace.
Company management should look closely at the work and socialisation issues and try to achieve a balance of their corporate culture so that it delivers all the benefits while minimising any loss of productivity. These facets of the company's operation were revealed to be of high importance by the results of this survey.
The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for a long time to come. But we have seen that businesses can survive and succeed even when employees are forced to work from home.
We have seen that people are happy to work in a home environment as they can focus more on their job while enjoying spending time with their family. They also can rise to the challenges of working from home and enjoy and appreciate the level of trust their company places in them.
Social distancing and maintaining a hygienic workplace will continue to be a facet of the new normal in the business world as Thailand emerges from the pandemic. Studies, such as the one undertaken by Gensler, reveal valuable insights which can be used to streamline and improve business processes and create a healthier workplace as we move forward in the new normal.
But the most important thing we have learned is that by making good use of the internet and communications technology, our people and businesses can adapt and survive against formidable challenges.