Before coronavirus hit, there’d already been a shift towards more employees working from home. But thanks to lockdown, a full roll out of remote working has come far quicker than anyone anticipated. As restrictions slowly ease, UK businesses now have to choose whether to carry on with their new virtual employee experiment - or encourage teams back to a newly-open (and COVID-secure) workplace.
Every business is different, and not all roles enable employees to work from home. But let’s take a look at some key issues to judge the pros and cons of different ways of working and how they affect staff.
One of the pre-pandemic arguments against allowing more working from home was a potential loss of focus and productivity. But months of lockdown have so far proved this fear to be mostly unfounded. Early research suggests that during lockdown, employees haven’t been less productive - and they’ve also been able to provide the same quality of service. According to a recent survey by CIPD, 37% of UK employers think staff working from home are as productive as those working in a physical workplace. Some 28% believe they’re even more productive or efficient (and 28% think they’re less so).
It’s true that remote working can give people focused time without interruptions and distractions of colleagues alongside them. But let’s not forget that many virtual workers have struggled to carve out the time and place to truly focus, especially if they’ve needed to home school or care for children alongside their 9-5.
There’s no commute involved in logging onto a laptop and getting on with work. Plus many people used to spending hours driving or on public transport have enjoyed much more time with their families or doing hobbies. But working from home means there’s no defining line or boundary between work time and home time, with many finding it hard to clock off at the end of the working day and more likely to experience burnout.
For a huge chunk of the workforce, the office has been somewhere to socialise as well as work. So people who live alone, and young people who live in shared accommodation with minimal communal space, have experienced more feelings of loneliness and disconnect during the pandemic. Smart employers now realise that the mental wellbeing of staff is just as important as productivity levels.
From spontaneous interactions in the corridor that spark new ideas, to chats by the water cooler that nurture relationships… The office space is key for innovation and collaboration. It’s possible for colleagues to bounce ideas off each other on a quick video chat - and there are great remote collaboration and project management tools to take advantage of - but will creativity lose out if everyone’s working from a different location?
On the other hand, the headspace and peace you can get from working at home (as long as you don’t have caring responsibilities) can be good for innovation and creativity, too.
What happens to a company’s culture - the values, beliefs and ideals shared by those within a company - when the entire staff work from separate locations?
As we know from talking to candidates looking to find their next roles via HR GO, a positive company culture features on many wish lists and makes a difference between being an employee and a motivated member of a team. With the lack of chances to bond in-person, surely staff risk becoming disengaged from each other and their company?
Good employers have worked hard to keep connections and traditions going, with regular chances of bonding and camaraderie adapted for video - from a Zoom happy hour to team quizzes and challenges. They’re also putting a new focus on virtual leadership, concentrating on engaging and supporting remotely with video conferences and one-to-one catch-ups.
But going forward, companies will need to work harder to keep a company culture flourishing if the workforce is predominantly remote. And there’s no doubt that company culture will need to pivot to reflect these challenging times, with trust and empathy set to become even more baked into employers’ approach.
The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work - for now, at least. Perhaps in the longer term, offices and physical workplaces will become places where people gather less frequently but make positive, lasting connections that sustain them for the rest of the time when they’re working from home.
As your business starts to look at life after lockdown, it’s key to find the right way for your own employees.
For some tips on managing the work/life balance and creating a suitable workspace visit https://www.cotswoldco.com/working-from-home/index.html
Note: Months after publishing this post, according to the BBC, the Centre for Cities think tank predicted the British workforce would be back to a five-day office work week within 2 years. So, here at HR GO, we conducted an informal poll on LinkedIn to see what our followers had to say. Here are the results: In June 2021 our followers made these predictions for 2023: 34% of respondents thought we'd be back in the office 3-4 days per week, 26% thought 1-2 days, and 22% thought we'd be continuing to work from home. Only 18% thought we'd be back in the office full time.