There’s no doubting COVID-19 has catapulted business 5 years forward in as many months with lockdown measures in many countries forcing businesses to rapidly deploy home-working systems, question the value of an office-based workforce, and to re-think long term flexible working practises.
There has been much written about the benefits of homeworking, the advantages of a commute-less start and end to the working day, greater productivity, less stress, and an improved work-life balance. All very notable advantages but is it all sustainable?
According to the latest homeworking survey conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) almost half the UK workforce (47%) worked from home during spring and summer of 2020, of which the majority (86%) did so as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s also not surprising that many organisations are now considering working from home as a longer term, our should that be permanent solution! Not a day goes by without news of a large corporation announcing their long-term home-working strategy. Indeed, even Martin Lewis is in on the act with moneysavingexpert.com providing information and advice on tax relief for home-working, so the future is bright for us all; isn’t it! Indeed prior to the latest round of Lockdown, Tiers and Firebreaks, only 34% of UK workers had returned to the office compared to an average of 68% across Europe.
Some are lucky enough to have a dedicated workspace at home, a room from which you can work un-interrupted and without distraction from home life. It’s like going to work but without the hassle! But what about the people who do not have this luxury, how many are perched on the kitchen table, coffee table or indeed the bedroom dressing table!
How many balance homeworking with young children, school pickup & drops off, homework or constant interruptions from supermarket deliveries, online shopping or the neighbour’s dog barking! Additionally, how many people are living and working from a small one- or two-bedroom apartment, purchased or rented so as they can be nearer work to save the commute and enjoy city life! Often single and with little chance of a social life with pandemic restrictions, living and working in the same space 24x7; Sleep-work-eat-repeat!
OK, so I am generalising a little, but the point I am making is that whilst COVID-19 has fast-tracked many businesses home-working policies at such a pace, leads me to ask how much real consideration has been given to individuals ability to work from home? Afterall working from home is much more than ‘here’s your laptop and remote access credentials, off you go’.
Another area of concern is the S-word, that’s right Security! How secure are home PC’s, home Wi-Fi networks or indeed how safe is the information displayed on homeworkers PC screens. Whilst the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) recognises the challenge brought about by a rapid shift to homeworking, it most certainly will not overlook cyber breaches originating from an employee’s homeworking setup. Couple this with the daily battle for home internet bandwidth with the kids home-schooling or gaming consoles, YouTube, Netflix and Tik Tok, is today’s home really suitable as a long-term homeworking environment, probably not, least not without change.
Finally, we must consider the long-term mental health of our homeworking workforce for those who adopt a long-term homeworking strategy. Afterall, in the main, humans are social animals, we need social interactions for our wellbeing, collaboration and motivation. Yes, we have fantastic collaboration tools, audio and video conferencing and online collaboration workspaces and Apps, but nothing can replace the ad-hoc social interactions that go hand in hand with the workplace.
So, is homeworking a long-term viable option for us all or just a social experiment brought about by unprecedent times?
The short answer is Yes; and No!
Assuming businesses make suitable technology and environment investments for their homeworkers, the productivity efficiencies, wider environmental benefits and significant improvement in our work-life-balance mean we should not ignore the long-term benefits of a homeworking policy. However, this should be balanced by access to an office environment, or local workplace hubs, that provide that much needed social interaction and ‘real’ collaboration and the all too important small talk by the water cooler.
Perhaps a hybrid approach that offers the benefits of both worlds for those of us to who want to work in this way, and for those who do not or are not able. A local office space where they have the tools, the space, a desk, and a clear demarcation between work and homelife.
Afterall we should not force a homeworking strategy on those who do not want to or are not able to work from home.