The work dilemma

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The work dilemma

Lee Eun-hyung
The author is a professor of business administration at Kookmin University.

Of course, IT companies are the first. Starting this month, Line Plus, which is in charge of overseas operations for the messenger service Line, will start a Hybrid 2.0 work system that completely breaks the limitations of the workplace. Employees are allowed to work in overseas areas with a time difference of less than four hours from Korean Standard Time. Kakao is allowing working from home, starting with a metaverse work system, including one in-office attendance a week. Naver allows employees to choose between three in-office days and fully working from home every six months.

Work hours are getting shorter. Kakao announced a biweekly Friday off, and IT education company Hunet announced a four-day workweek. Toss Bank, an online bank, has already implemented autonomous telecommuting and a bi-weekly four-day workweek. Smaller start-ups and IT companies are attempting a new normal of work in the “endemic era.”

In fact, no one can be sure that this new normal is the right answer for IT companies. Perhaps they initiated the change as it was immediately necessary but won’t be in the future.

As the pandemic is ending, industries started to think about a new work system. Emergency changes made to adapt to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic have to be reconsidered, but simply reverting to the pre-pandemic system is not the answer. We cannot go back to the pre-pandemic work system nor the work system during the pandemic. In short, we need to establish new standards, but we don’t have a set answer or a precedent for benchmarking. The time has come to set out for the destination, but we don’t know the coordinates.

Organizations around the world are confused. While some global tech companies quickly adapted work from home as the new normal, others want employees back in the office. Progress is not smooth due to a backlash from employees. Twitter and Airbnb announced permanent telecommuting, but choosing that is not easy for most enterprises. Apple reduced work from home and announced a plan to have employees in the office three days a week. Ian Goodfellow, who was in charge of key future projects such as Apple Car, decided to leave Apple and join Google, where full work from home is in place.

Recently, Elon Musk sent an email to Tesla employees saying, “The more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence.” The email was met with anger and resistance from employees. There is also a national-level experiment. In the UK, 3,300 workers have been testing a four-day workweek for six months from June. The UK plans to reflect the results in a national policy after checking whether productivity can be maintained if workers work four days a week without pay cuts.

Members of organizations want to work from home, but situations are not simple, as telework is not the best option for all organizations. Work systems vary depending on industries and organizations. The spectrum is wide, from companies that require complete offline operations with all employees in office to flexible organizations that can freely implement telework or hybrid work. We need to seek the most optimized plan for each organization.

Fortunately, all organizations have experienced some sort of flexible work system during the pandemic. We need to analyze the temporary measures in response to the pandemic and seek a new path. The solution should have the industry, job function, organizational characteristics, and culture in mind.

Leaders generally have a negative view of telecommuting. They feel anxious when they cannot check work directly. They also believe creative ideas come out and problems are solved when members engage and interact. Meanwhile, most employees prefer a flexible working system and claim that productivity does not decrease compared to in-person work. Leaders and members can reinforce strengths and make up the weaknesses by creating the optimal work system together.

The age of great transformation has begun. Leaders must find a new normal for their organizations by working with personnel department officials. 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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