Working from Home – Here we go again!

Posted — Wednesday 25.09.2020

During the summer, employers were briefly able to ask workers to return to the office for non essential work. Now the government advice has changed again, urging everyone to “work from home if you can”.

When the previous lockdown began, only 5% of UK employees regularly worked from home. By mid-June, that had risen to 48%, creating a new “working from home army” as some put it.

While everyone who can work from home was thrown into the deep end in Spring, not everyone will be overjoyed to find out they will have to do so again for the next six months.

Meanwhile, employers will need to consider how they will manage their teams now, and how they will plan for the future, when working from home will no longer be required.

Large businesses such as Twitter, Google and RBS have decided to allow employees to work remotely for however long they wish, but what are you planning to do and what is the right approach for your business? 

A question of fairness

As much as we might debate this question, it is important to remember that for many frontline or customer facing roles, working from home simply not an option: Shop workers, drivers, engineers and construction workers will still have to be at the coalface. As a result, many organisations will have a blended workforce of those that can work from home and those that cannot.

man in warehouse

Immediately, this divides workforces into several camps: Those who work from home and like it; those who work from home and loathe it; those who wish they could work from home; and those who are glad they can’t. And there are many people somewhere in between.

Making the divide more striking is that the roles being done remotely are often high paid professional or managerial jobs, while those in lower paid roles such as skilled trades, customer service or machine operation have continued working onsite.

As well as an income divide, this has created a generational divide, with older workers more likely to work from home, while those under 24 are most likely to be at the workplace.

Understandably, organisations have started to witness tensions appear within the two camps as they find a way to make things work going forward.

With this in mind, when you are planning future working designs, you need to ensure you don’t create an employee engagement issue which could impact on your productivity.  

It’s not the same for everyone

While working from home is now required for many, it’s important to consider that working from home isn’t for everyone and you’ll need to bear this in mind as you plan for your long term future once the restrictions – eventually – lift.

A recent study by Quartz found that 55% of people who switched to working from home during the pandemic said that they preferred it when polled in June. However, only 39% of Europeans – who have traditionally had higher rates of home working prior to the pandemic – feel the same.

It has also been found that the size of your organisation will impact on your employees’ appetite to return to the office environment in future. 69% of workers from large companies say they like to work from home, while just 46% from small companies say they like to (Quartz).  

hands typing on laptop

There is also a split of opinions related to age: ‘Millennials’ (born between 1981 and 1996) are 33% more likely than ‘Baby Boomers’ (1946-1964) to be excited to return to the office (Quartz study).

One reason for this is that some people have pressures at home which they’d rather leave behind on a daily basis.  This can be due to their living arrangements, family circumstances or social needs. You need to know your employees, understand their personal circumstances and accommodate their individual needs where possible.

Unfortunately, being forced to work from home appears to have taken a toll on some workers’ mental health, according to a survey by Wiserd.ac.uk. 

Without a doubt, this is a factor that needs to be considered in the design of organisations moving forward. If your team should now largely work from home or if you plan to allow more remote working beyond winter, you may have to create or update your mental health policy, ensure employees can access support remotely and adjust how you would provide mental health first aid.

Finding the right path forward

You also need to consider your recruitment, attraction and retention strategy.

Ensure that the population you wish to attract are motivated by your working location plans and that you aren’t upsetting your existing staff. If you are targeting entry level roles, consider their appetite to be in an office environment once the restrictions lift, and progress further to consider what expectations they may have of that office environment.

While there are challenges and differences of opinion and different needs, working remotely can have great benefits for an organisation: Employees no longer have to travel to work, they have more time to spend with their loved ones, they can work more flexibly around their personal and family commitments, it can reduce office-based outgoings, and two-thirds of organisations have found it to be more productive (Wiserd).

There are things we will all miss about the pre-pandemic office environment, and things we’re glad to see the back of.

For now, you need to focus on making sure that working from home can work for everyone on your team; particularly those who may not have enjoyed working from home during the last lockdown.

When the advice changes, it may be that organisations will have to find a balance which suits the needs of the business, the needs of each employee and which take account of their personal preferences.

The important thing is to take care to consider how to manage productivity, culture, purpose and wellbeing as you look forward to the future.

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