An original KÖZGAZDÁSZ ONLINE post.
The past couple of days some of us were lucky to spend at home. Distance learning, distance work, some even tried distance pubbing. But what will happen after the virus is gone? We had a conversation with information society researcher, associate professor of Corvinus University of Budapest Dr. Árpád Rab about the changes in education and the labor market brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, and how distance work might influence our everyday lives. This is the second part of our two-part series.
What could be the positive effects of the virus?
First of all, let us consider the fact that our impact on the environment has become much milder. Distance education means better quality with less environmental damage. After the virus is gone there will certainly be a reset in the arrangements, but many people will have got used to online operations by then. Also, our digital immunity will increase. So, in case of another pandemic we will adapt much more easily. While this virus is a terrible thing, it will also have good outcomes concerning both Hungarian society and the whole world.
Can teleworking harm productivity?
Teleworking improves or harms productivity not because of the different technology but because many companies lack clear-cut processes. In distance work task assignment and controlling has increased priority. Sometimes the problem here is that the distance worker is more easily replaceable. Personalities play a much smaller role here. If the task is to write 14 thousand lines of programming codes this week, it has much less importance for the employer who does it. In the office you use a lot of soft skills, but in a distance work arrangement numbers will count more, so there is a possibility of decline. Many Hungarian SME’s are unable to move forward because their processes are not clear-cut. They play a lot of informal games, deadlines are not met, organizational structures and job areas are not specified well enough. In terms of competitiveness, these specifications carry a lot of significance.
How can the widespread use of teleworking affect small and medium sized enterprises?
There are many serious effects. First and foremost, their operations can be a lot more economical, their overhead costs become smaller, they do not have to rent office space. They can please their employees by the teleworking opportunities because most people want to work like that. Free breakfasts and sometimes a can of beer are kind of cute, but, in fact, all workplaces offer these.
There is only one counterargument: people tend to like working in teams, being together at the office, but if this personal connection can somehow be maintained digitally, there are only good sides of distance work for the employer. In general, I predict an improvement in quality for many companies as a result of the virus. Whether this will be true for Hungarian SME’s I cannot tell, not out of pessimism, but the fact is that the Industry 4.0 and automation processes have not really been popular with smaller companies. I very much hope that even in this sector there will be improvement, and this will manifest not in short-sighted downsizing but long-term growth. Frankly, I think companies which are able to adapt better will stay alive.
What is the most important thing to consider when we study or work from home?
The key is flexibility: this is what the virus is teaching us.
This is true not only about education but businesses as well. The winners will be those who can stay open and learn even in this situation. Now we are running a distance education system at Corvinus. I think this task was completed very successfully in the given circumstances. At the same time, people are at home: in a different state of mind, a different environment. This semester can most probably be completed with little learning, but you should be aware that this is rather a loss and not a gain. Those who can keep learning and let go of the unavoidable losses will achieve well.
What are your tricks to keep motivated during home office?
1. Time scheduling – pretend you are your own boss.
2. Know yourself and schedule your day accordingly.
3. Stay focused.
One drawback of home office is that we lose our grip of time, in the morning we seem to have all the time in the world and at night we realize we have just wasted the whole day. The smart distance worker knows when they have the most creative times. This will be the basis for the daily schedule: when to work and when to rest. Do not mix the two throughout the day because this doesn’t serve concentration, even though most people do it this way. The main thing is to be able to manage ourselves smartly.
The trap is dishonesty with yourself. Self-awareness is key. There are also a lot of techniques and applications to help concentration and focus, use them. Try to get the most out of this virus situation, learn something new. Set a goal for the next two months: it may be to read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for some time, or to complete an online course. This may also help depression and the feeling of uselessness. As a result, at the end of the two months you will be walking the streets happy and with new skills instead of fat, pale and jobless.
How can you resist the temptation of having some fun while working?
To be honest, I have two desks in front of me, one holds the PC, this is my work desk, but all I need to do is roll over to the other one and I can start massacring strangers on my PS4. With adequate self-discipline I can manage this most of the time. Of course, on worse days I also have difficulties staying focused. Unfortunately, there is no definite ending of this learning process, when you are done and you will be a good distance worker from then on, all your life. This is a life-long process. I have an easy job because I love my work, it is like a drug for me. If you love your work and cannot wait to start every day it will be easier for you to stay busy.
Is it possible that the indirect positive consequences of the virus will slow down or even reverse?
It may be true that the current industrial slow-down is good for the environment short-term but hurts the economy in the long run. Nevertheless, ethical business dealings will become more popular. Trying to protect the environment will be something to consider. The techniques, the know-how for this will proliferate. The very simple reason for this is that the impact we have will be very clearly visible, even for the skeptics. We had no testing sample before, now we do. Environmentalist and efficiency-boosting innovations will spread for this reason. I do not predict a slow-down though, but a slightly more intelligent attitude will prevail.
Written by: Viktor Bera