Working from Home – Here we go again!

Posted — Wednesday 25.09.2020

During the summer, employers briefly asked workers to return to the office for non-essential tasks. However, government advice has changed once more, urging everyone to “work from home if you can.”

Before the previous lockdown, only 5% of UK employees regularly worked from home. By mid-June, that number skyrocketed to 48%, creating a new “working from home army.”

While many adapted to remote work during the Spring, not everyone will be thrilled to return to this setup for the next six months. Employers must now navigate how to manage their teams in the present and plan for the future, when remote work may no longer be necessary.

Large companies like Twitter, Google, and RBS have chosen to allow employees to work remotely for as long as they prefer. As a business, it’s essential to consider your approach and find the right solution for your organisation.

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

The division among workforces is evident, with some embracing remote work, while others despise it or wish they had the option. This divide is more pronounced as higher-paid professional or managerial roles tend to work from home, while lower-paid positions continue on-site. Alongside income disparity, a generational gap exists, with older workers more likely to work remotely and younger employees typically at the workplace. Organisations are witnessing tensions between these two groups, emphasising the need to carefully plan future work designs to avoid potential employee engagement issues that could affect 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

Age influences opinions on returning to the office, with ‘Millennials’ 33% more excited than ‘Baby Boomers’ (Quartz study).

Some prefer the office due to home pressures, such as living arrangements or family needs.

Working from home has negatively impacted mental health ( survey).

Organizations must address mental health concerns in their future plans, updating policies and remote support access.

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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