The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Working Conditions: Work from Home

Submitted by:
Namira R. Vasta
(MBA) First Year
Jankidevi Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Santacruz , Mumbai.

In the first months of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in an unforeseen disruption of many people’s daily life. In order to contain the pandemic, public life came to a halt in many countries around the globe. People were asked to stay at home, schools were closed, public events were banned, ‘non-essential’ production was stopped, social distancing was strongly encouraged and even lockdowns were imposed (Kewedar & Khaleel, 2022). Many employees were ordered short-time work or to work from home due to lockdowns. The coronavirus pandemic thus resulted in an abrupt change in daily routines and working conditions for many employees. Consequently, adaptation to this novel situation depended on the degree to which work from home allowed satisfaction of the basic needs, i.e., the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, which humans need in order to thrive and be motivated (Digutsh et al., 2021). That is, people need to experience themselves as self-determined active agents (autonomy) that are able to produce desired outcomes (competence) and connect meaningfully with others (relatedness) in order to be satisfied. In a context that fulfils these needs, humans develop intrinsic motivation, wherein they feel good and work well. Thus, the concept of basic need satisfaction is crucial to apply in the work sphere to trace worker satisfaction. Specifically, in order to feel motivated at work, employees need to experience the ability to (a) choose and decide in which way to tackle work tasks (autonomy), (b) master work tasks well (competence), and (c) have meaningful interactions with colleagues (relatedness) (Digutsh et al., 2021). It is thus interesting to see the effect of related need satisfaction on working from home and the impact work-from-home on autonomy, competence, and relatedness experience on everyday motivation and well-being.

Working in an online setup during the COVID-19 pandemic has far reaching effects upon the different areas of life of people. Through this review of literature, those areas of well-being, organizational development, mental health, work-life balance as well as supportive factors are highlighted, reviewed and discussed.

Having to work from home: basic needs, well-being, and motivation
Digutsh et al. (2021): All in all, the study contributed to the understanding of working from home and painted a reasonably positive picture for work-from-home well-being and motivation where workers seem well able to adapt to the changed work environment, be productive, thrive in general, and even to detach healthily. Making sure that employees felt competent even when working from home by granting them more control over how and when they completed their tasks, was seen to further boost their motivation and well-being. Only relatedness to co-workers was considerably affected by not going to the office, which was not seen as a problem. However, what mattered more than regular friendly interactions with colleagues seemed to be knowing they can be relied upon in times of need. Thus, creating an atmosphere in which support provision between colleagues is endorsed seems warranted, particularly when considering long-term work from home arrangements. Employers need not fear the lack of control over their employees when these work from home, as long as they instilled intrinsic motivation by enabling employees to feel autonomous, competent, and connected while working, wherever the workplace.

Factors associated with work engagement of employees
Amano et al. (2021): This study aimed to identify the factors that influence the work engagement of employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan. They found that close communication with superiors, refraining from working long hours, and obtaining adequate sleep are associated with high work engagement in Japanese workers working from home. This suggests that interventions aimed at addressing these factors may help workers achieve higher levels of work engagement. Additionally, the study also identified some of the challenges faced by employees working from home which included, difficulties in achieving work/life balance, maintaining workspaces, collaborating and/or communicating with supervisors/colleagues, and adhering to healthy behaviours. Addressing these would also be beneficial to improve the working conditions of workers.

Working Conditions, Employment, Career Development and Well-Being
Tzoraki et al. (2021): With the sudden onset of the pandemic and the strict protection measures, people have faced multiple changes that the crisis has brought about in all areas of life. Almost 15.6% of the people feel the impact of the pandemic on their health and 45% on their income, whereas 46.9% find it difficult to live comfortably with their current income and worry about the current health crisis. People working in the non-academic sector have had great difficulties in coping with issues, such as unemployment, during the pandemic. As for refugees, it had been found that unemployed refugees and student refugees have experienced economic issues coping with present income, and are extremely anxious that COVID-19 will significantly affect their income and employment. The socioeconomic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased their vulnerability, especially those found in asylum procedures. It was observed that people in general were greatly worried about the current health crisis, insecure about health protection and lacked resources to effectively work from home, in particular, through lack of working space and access to IT hardware and software. The decrease of income, the loss of employment and the difficulty with staying productive in working from home are important concerns. Recommendations are provided in the study to extend temporary contracts and to prioritize the administration of asylum procedures, as well as various measures to improve their integration such as online advanced language courses and provision of technological hardware and software licenses.

Changes in the organization of work under the influence of COVID-19
Habánik et al. (2021): The study highlighted the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on work at the organizational level. It showed how the pandemic had hit hard all the processes and activities worldwide. Thus, in order for societies to remain functional, the study emphasizes processes and activities that must be modified. In this relation, the labour market was a dynamic entity featuring an array of complex and simultaneous processes and relations among all its players. Therefore, it was seen necessary to perceive the current crisis as one of the key factors in determining the multilateral nature of the labour market. The COVID-19 pandemic had affected all aspects of our lives. While discussing the negative effects of the pandemic, some positive aspects should not go unnoticed. The research findings show that the pandemic had triggered and accelerated the implementation of the Industry 4.0 in Slovak businesses. It also showed how the use of ICT had become more frequent and powerful, thus giving opportunities for structural changes in economy, labour market and future economic growth.

Working from home a new workplace panacea
de Klerk et al. (2021): In this research study, working from home proved to be an effective alternative work arrangement. However, notwithstanding idealistic expectations and excitement about it, exclusive working from home was seen to hamper employee engagement and employee experience to the point of burnout. The findings confirmed that remote working was more than just a change in physical location; it also altered the surrounding environment, resources required, organisational expectations and interactions with other employees. A multitude of factors contributed to or detracted from the work-from-home experience. When job resources and organisational support exceeded job demands, this resulted in higher levels of employee engagement and positive experiences. Conversely, where job demands, such as increased workload and family commitments, exceeded resources, this resulted in adverse experiences and decreased engagement. Organisational support, a conducive organisational culture and trust were seen as key requirements of working from home, whereas a lack of face-to-face interaction was found to be a key obstacle. Remote working trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic were unlikely to disappear as employees found working from home to be both productive and attractive. Indeed, many employees favoured organisations that provided remote working opportunities. Thus, it was recommended that organisations that aimed to benefit from improved employee engagement and experience should afford employees remote work opportunities, even after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the paradoxical findings of this study demonstrate that working from home represents neither a panacea nor a proverbial headache. Rather the answer to future work arrangements lies in developing a healthy balance between the physical office presence and working from home, with an appropriate organisational and managerial support.

The impact of CoVID‐19 pandemic on gender‐related work from home
Frize et al. (2021): While several articles have been published on various aspects of working from home during the pandemic, they did not address the gender differences in regard to time spent on childrearing and household duties, or even access to home office. This is the gap that has been addressed by our working-from-home survey. The response to the survey reflects not only globally representative data but also captures the challenges relevant to the working biomedical engineers, medical physicists, and other STEM related fields. It is interesting to note that men participate in child care and household duties in a relatively high percentage; although this is fewer hours daily than for women, it is definitely far more than can be found two and three decades ago. Future analysis will look at this last aspect for various regions in the world. It is evident that the burden of child care and household duties will have a negative impact on the careers of women if the burden is not similar for both sexes, unless policies of organizations that hire them can provide accommodation and compensation to minimize the negative impact on the professional status and career of men and women who work in STEM field.

The psychological impact of the COVID-19 crisis
Marmet et al. (2021): The present study aimed to investigate whether the psychological impact of the COVID-19 crisis varied with regards to young Swiss men’s pre-crisis level of education and socioeconomic status and to changes in their work situation due to it. The COVID-19 crisis had a high impact on the work situation and the psychological well-being of the young men. Those who lost their job or had to work mostly from home reported higher psychological impact due to the COVID-19 crisis, and such changes in work situation should be accompanied by supportive measures to reduce their psychological impact. Moreover, subgroups with a lower pre-crisis SES reported a higher psychological impact due to the COVID-19 crisis, and thus, the crisis revealed and amplified pre-existing psychological frailties. The study appealed the policy makers to ensure that measures taken to contain pandemics do not disproportionally affect already vulnerable groups, for example by offering the possibility of partial unemployment to sectors most affected by the crisis, which are often also the sectors with lower salaries. Where disproportional burdens on vulnerable groups cannot be avoided, accompanying measures should be taken to lessen the impact of the crisis on these subgroups. For example, providing easily accessible psychological and emergency financial support for those at a greater risk of experiencing psychological distress due to crisis may be an important element of crisis management. Such measures could also help to prevent crises from further augmenting disparities in mental health

The impact of virtual office platform on the work-life balances
Rathnaweera & Jayathilaka (2021): The study revealed that there was a significant positive impact of the virtual office platform on work-life balance. When working with virtual platforms, both the employee and the employer need to consider these variables carefully. Findings demonstrated that non-working environment factors which included gender and the number of children in a family had a major effect, particularly in developing countries like Sri Lanka. Furthermore, findings showed that these effects were particularly strong in 26–30 and 31–40 age groups. The gig economy growing at a remarkable rate and their income levels were found to be generally high. In addition, the virtual platform had created opportunities for more female workers to rejoin the workforce by teleworking and also for those who have temporarily stayed away from work (due to being married, with kids, etc.) to return. In Sri Lanka, virtual platforms and teleworking needed to be perceived beyond a mere quick fix to sustain the economy. These teleworking policies can be incorporated into organizational practices and processes. In this approach, much attention is to be paid for women with kids aged 0–5 years, skilled employees and degree holders (based on this study), and especially those who have the potential to adapt to working via online platforms. Overall, flexibility and more opportunities for workers, a proactive approach to address the role conflict which strongly impacts well-being in virtual platforms (where employees handle both work and personal roles, allow quality time with family) can help achieve positive organizational outcomes in the long run.

Work-Life Conflict During the Pandemic
Schieman et al. (2021): The study showed the way in which coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic upended work, family, and social life. These massive changes due to the pandemic resulted in shifts in exposure to work-life conflict. Using a national survey that followed Canadian workers from September 2019 into April and June 2020, the authors of the study found that work-life conflict decreased among adults who had no children at home. In contrast, for those with children at home, the patterns depended on age of youngest child. Among individuals who had children that were younger than 6 or between 6 and 12, there was no decreases in work-life conflict that were observed. As opposed to this, those individuals with teenagers did not differ from the child-free population of adults. Although these patterns did not significantly differ by gender, they were amplified among individuals with high work-home integration. An overall pattern of reduced work-life conflict during the pandemic was observed from these findings, however, these shifts were circumscribed by age of youngest child at home and the extent of work-home integration.

Supportive and Deterrent factors in the Work Environment
Perä et al. (2021): The aim of this study was to explore employees’ experiences of development in work with the focus on the work environment wherein supportive and deterrent factors during the COVID-19 could be identified. Several supportive factors in work development like a common identity of being development-focused nurtured a creative work environment, common incentives, a supportive and developmental work culture, a change-promoting work environment, the involvement of entire working group in development work as well as change based on employees’ insights and initiative. Additionally, home support, self-care measures and employee communication were seen as supportive factors in improving mental health of these employees. In contrast, there were deterrent factors identified while working in the COVID-19 pandemic. These were difficulty in bringing development work to focus, influencing external organizational decisions, the time and resources requisites for starting some new, high workload, unmet expectations, as well as difficulty involving people from outside the work environment.

Research has made it evident that the once desired, highly favourable, WFH has not proved to be one of the best options for majority of workforce. Interest in WFH remains, but not in its current form. Better guidelines and policies from the government should be in place to properly regulate and make WFH feasible. One area of policy where planning and implementation is an absolute necessity is guidance into adapting to remote online work. The decision to suspend in-person meetings and working was implemented swiftly, but without any guidance of how to do so. Workers are unaware about what WFH entails and lack resources required for this change, like software, access to official documents and proper working space. Proper training is required if this practice is to be a feasible option or the new normal. There should also be considerations amended to exercise proper boundaries in work and home environment for there to be work-life balance for employees. Supportive factors highlighted in research at work, home as well as at personal level must be implemented by corporates and the deterrent factors should be worked on to improve their mental functioning and living conditions. There should be a collaboration on the part of the government and corporates to improve the standard of working of employees in work places wherein the former proposes policies that benefit the workers and the later works on implementing and perfecting those policies. Only by coming together of society, people and organizations can there be improvement in the working conditions of employees. Possibly the working balance will be visible post-pandemic when WFH is not a forced mandate, rather a flexible option.

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