By Jenny Lee WIRED Korea
Months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all facets of everyday life, raising hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over and a recovery will soon be in full swing.
Many things are expected to return to normal quickly, with lockdowns lifted and social distancing measures relaxed in a number of countries. Yet there is one thing that seems to be here to stay: remote working.
Global tech giants and a slew of companies that have sent employees to work from home following spikes in confirmed cases sprouting from large gatherings and outbreaks at workplaces earlier this year are looking to keep their office partially closed even after the coronavirus crisis ends.
Social networking platform Twitter said in May it had notified staff that they can continue working from home as long as they see fit.
Twitter’s head of HR Jennifer Christie wrote in an official blog post: “The past few months have proven we can make that work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.”
Facebook, another Silicon Valley tech company, also followed suit, announcing in May that within a decade, as many as half of its 48,000 or so employees would work from home permanently.
This push happening around remote work has motivated Korean companies to also embark on a work-from-home experiment.
“Remote working on a large scale during the coronavirus outbreak has been a successful trial run,” says Yoo Byungjoon, a professor at Seoul National University’s College of Business Administration. “It was a great opportunity for companies as well as employees to figure out the pros and cons of company-wide remote working, which they wouldn’t have readily pursued if it weren’t for the pandemic.”
After receiving overwhelmingly positive responses from employees about their experience of working from home, NHN Corp, a Korean online game developer, has already asked all employees to work remotely every Wednesday. It said an internal survey showed 88 percent of NHN workers were satisfied with the experience.
Korea’s No.1 mobile carrier, SK Telecom, is also weighing up other remote working options such as building a network of work stations across the Seoul metropolitan area so as to empower workers by providing workplace flexibility.
The company said these “hub offices” in the Seoul districts of Gangnam, Songpa, and Gangseo as well as in Ilsan, just northwest of Seoul in Gyeonggi Province, will free up spaces at its headquarters in downtown Seoul, while helping employees work most effectively.
Yoo thinks more and more companies in Korea will apply remote working measures, but because there exist challenges of telework, he sees the scenario in which all employees working from home is unimaginable.
As some tasks must be done in the office on a certain computer or with better equipment, working from home is difficult for many people, he says.
“After all, companies’ focus is always on maintaining and improving employee productivity,” Yoo says. “Although collaboration tools (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams) facilitate workers to communicate with one another, they are not as effective as face-to-face interactions.”
Those who have worked from home at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Korea say they look forward to seeing their companies offering flexible working hours, not making a complete shift to remote work.
“I’d be happy if I am given a choice to work from home,” says Jane Doo, a 30-year-old designer who works at a Seoul-based international organization.
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