Working from Home, WFH, Home Working…the working practice has entered the mainstream and become the new normal for most businesses and their employees for almost a year. Alice shares her perspective of working in a shared house.
With Unilever, one of the UK’s biggest companies, offering the latest announcement that its office workers will never have an “old fashioned” five-day working week in the office again, the question on a lot of people’s minds is what the future of work looks like post-pandemic. This is an opportunity to reconfigure working practices which could prove incredibly positive for businesses and their employees alike. But engaging in and profiting from that opportunity is dependent on a business’s ability to understand and propagate the advantages and mitigate the downsides of working from home.
As a young professional, the virtual workplace has deprived me of the “softer” things that are so important about office working. Primarily, learning via osmosis, often the key to early career success and progression, is simply not possible whilst working from home. Those moments overhearing how your manager dealt with a difficult situation or grabbing that small gambit of wisdom from a senior co-worker over the coffee machine have all gone. No matter how many virtual ‘hangout’ spaces an office builds, they do not add up to the human interaction and observation of the office environment.
Also, line management has become tougher. No longer can you look over the office and see the body language of others. When workload is mounting in the virtual world, picking up the phone to your manager to communicate you are feeling overwhelmed can feel too dramatic. For many, you quickly realise how you often took for granted the ability of others to read your body language and adapt to your signals. When this is paired with the eagerness of most young professional to take on more work at all times and the backdrop of a tough job market, many will feel like they are perched on a rickety old bridge, with little room to say no.
These are both obviously issues, but our team have helpful tools that can help you to mitigate against them. Do you think your business could benefit from some extra management training? A future offering is our Leading Remotely training, which provides practical solutions for effective leadership that fully harnesses the potential of employees in a virtual working world. Or perhaps it may be that your employees could benefit from having a certified Mental Health First Aider who can spot the signs and signpost struggling employees to the correct support. These positive interventions begin at the top and shape a business. If you manifest the correct attitudes in your organisation, you’ll benefit from the trickle down that this creates.
When considering the wellbeing of employees, the beauty of working from home is the extra time it gives us. During lockdowns, it may feel that time is all we have, so this measure is slightly off given current circumstances. But whether it’s the extra hour in the evening to read and exercise or the added hour of sleep in the morning, this extra space to breath has been greatly received. Although good sleep is deemed critical for good health, a 2018 study by Aviva found that on average, UK adults got 6.4 hours of sleep per night, well below the 8 hours per night recommended by the NHS. ‘Across a week, this adds up to a total shortfall of 11 hours – nearly half a day!’ Clearly, how we use this extra breathing space is being limited by the national lockdown, but in future the potential benefits here should be considered by employers and employees alike.
Particularly for those starting their career, the absence of both the significant time and financial commitment required for a commute has also been a welcome relief. Commuting is statistically proven to make us less happy. In 2014, the ONS found that ‘commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters’. The effects of this are felt on average after 15 minutes of the commute, but the worst impacted are those whose commute lasts between an hour and an hour and a half. Personally, my lengthy commute has been replaced with a long walk before and after work each day, something I’ve found infinitely more beneficial. This pseudo commute has offered a routine to my day, an opportunity to decompress that I usually only got standing on a crowded train, meanwhile getting me to my 10,000 steps easily each day.
But what do our new home workplaces actually look like?
Many employers have stepped up to the plate, offering employees the relevant technological equipment and office furniture they need to create an effective home-work environment. This is obviously great – but what if you cannot clearly demarcate a space to work in from your home? There is entire generation of people who rented their flats and houses without thinking about the need for a desk space, never mind a study. The flat was to sleep, eat and (occasionally) socialise. Flat shares with a random collection of people are standard and little consideration was given to how noisy your flatmate would be on their Friday afternoon ‘virtual drinks’ when you chose your home. In the shift to home working, an entire generation of workers has been forgotten – those in rented accommodation, sharing living spaces. If a degree of home working persists as it is predicted to, there will be a whole demographic that seriously reconsider what their requirements from their next move will have to be.
There are things you can do as an employer that will enhance the working environment of your workforce. The Health and Safety Executive notes that ‘As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers’. Therefore, workstation or DSE (Display Screen Equipment) Assessments should be considered for employees working at home as they would in an office space. If you’re not sure how to deliver these, our team can carry out virtual DSE assessments to assess the home working space of your staff and provide practical tips to improve it, whatever their home set up is.
Happier, healthier and wealthier employees are more productive and therefore make for a successful business. As more and more organisations offer flexible working to employees as standard, smaller organisations will need to adapt in order to compete for the best candidates and workforce. There are undoubtedly those who have struggled with the challenges that constant and monotonous home working brings, but there are also those who have thrived and performed better without the distractions of the office. When considering the overall impact of home working on young professionals, there is strong temptation to be overly reductive and reduce young professionals to one specific mould. They hate working from home because they have no space, loud flatmates or feel lonely. Or they love working from home because they can do lunchtime yoga, slack off or eat a home cooked lunch. The reality is, like most things in life, the choice to seek the right balance will likely prove best. Clearly, working from home is not be possible for all businesses. But the overall innovation that widespread home working has encouraged, in respect of training and technology, will need to be considered by all employers in the benefits package offered to new hires. Finding the right balance has the potential to meet business and employee needs far better than a one-size fits all office approach.