17

Sep

Lockdown: Considerations For Permanent Remote Working Policies

17 09, 2020 Article

Less than a year ago, having the option to work from home was considered a luxury, a perk afforded to office workers which allowed for better work-life balance. Nobody could have predicted that by summer 2020 it would become more a question of public health than preference.

Businesses are used to grappling with a constantly changing environment, but the pandemic has provided a test like no other. Almost overnight, companies had to figure out how to mobilise their workforce remotely, often without the tools or digital maturity to make an adequate – let alone secure – job of it.

Now, several months into the pandemic, the future remains uncertain. The so-called ‘new normal’ is undoubtedly upon us, but the details are still taking shape. We’ve already experienced a few localised lockdowns despite the government’s plea to get back to the office, so whatever happens we can be sure of one thing: businesses will need to be prepared for the unknown.

But that’s only half the story. What about employees? How did they adapt to lockdown life, and how has remote working impacted them on a personal and professional level? There are some universal perks to working from home, such as cutting costs and saving time that would otherwise be spent on commuting back and forth, but it certainly isn’t for everybody. It also depends on the type of role, and how much collaboration or concentration is needed. Read on to find out how this impacts employees.

An appetite for remote working

While the pandemic may have shone spotlight on the issue, the discussion about working from home certainly isn’t a new one. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a report back in 2014 that looked at the link between commuting and personal wellbeing. The study found that each additional minute of commuting time made individuals feel gradually more anxious, unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. This effect was shared among all modes of transport, but more pronounced in those who used public transport such as busses and trains.

If you look back far enough, you can even unearth a 1998 article from the Harvard Business Review that talks about telecommuting, despite the technology barely being available at the time. The bottom line here is that the desire to work from, and the potential benefits that come with it, are hardly new. The critical difference between now and then, however, is that before it was a choice. For many employees during lockdown, that choice was removed and, in many cases, it’s still out of their hands.

Different strokes

If you spend just a few minutes on social media, you’ll see there are a plethora of opinion pieces on whether or not working from home is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The truth is, it really comes down to individuals, their roles and where they feel most comfortable and effective.

Age, for example, could be a determining factor. People above a certain age are more likely to own their own home, have space to work in and will relish the idea of spending more time with family or pursuing their long-time hobbies. They’re likely to have already spent several years cutting their teeth in a busy, hectic office environment and might even welcome a quieter work life with a more relaxed and controlled pace.

If we flip the coin and look at the reverse, a very different picture emerges. While there are no doubt Gen Z’ers and millennials everywhere who adore working from home, there will be many more who feel like they’re missing out. Office life provides socialisation, structure, learning – all things that are hard to achieve remotely without a stellar strategy in place. Younger generations are also far more likely to live in shared accommodation or small flats, making it difficult for them to find an appropriate space to work in.

Age is a good example, but it’s just one of hundreds of variables that could impact and individuals desire – and ability – to work remotely. Perhaps they’re a part-time carer or have young children at home. Maybe they have a partner who also works from home, which can bring new tensions into the relationship. The list goes on.

‘Role’ with it

An individual’s preferences and circumstances certainly play heavily into the choice to work from home, but so does their role. Some roles simply need that ‘office buzz’, with ideas bouncing around from person to person and everybody feeding off a vibrant and productive atmosphere. Other positions are more task-based, requiring deep and extended levels of concentration where all that’s needed is somewhere quiet with an internet connection. The latter, of course, is a perfect candidate for remote working.

Whose court is the ball in?

Interest in working from home hasn’t suddenly arrived with the pandemic; it’s always been there. The problem with lockdown is that it granted many people who wanted to work from home the ability to do so without question, but it also pushed many people who didn’t want to work from home in the same direction. It’s clear that what is needed here is choice and it’s down to businesses to make that choice possible.

Not only do businesses need to provide the infrastructure to enable their staff to work from home effectively should they chose to do so, they also need to create an accepting, empathetic culture around people’s choice to work where they are most comfortable and effective. Naturally, this will come with a whole host of hurdles and challenges, from cybersecurity and data management, right through to making office spaces COVID-secure. Businesses may have been on caught on the back foot in January, but now they’ve got the time and resources to re-evaluate, rebuild and start shaping the ‘new normal’ for all of us.

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