As the UK starts to open up again, even amidst rising Covid infections, what does the future hold for the office and working from home? Our FutureWork research explores the working from home experience since March 2020 and asks 'what next?'......
As the world plunged into the first global pandemic in a century, organisations were forced to respond, and fast. In a matter of days, working from home became the norm for over half the UK workforce: a rapid acceleration from the tiny minority of 1.5% -5% that had slowly embraced home working over the last three decades.
A pivotal moment.
In the UK, 19th July 2021 represents another pivotal moment, marking a turning point in our relationship with the pandemic, and how we live and work. The legal restrictions that have been in place since March 2020 are to be replaced by personal judgement and that old chestnut, common sense.
Which begs the question: how will your workplace respond to shifting expectations about work, the need for collaboration, the desire for many to 'get back to normal', the anxiety of some about traveling and socialising in a post-pandemic world, and the different needs of the workforce? We are now in the historically unique position of needing to decide whether the great home working experiment has added to, or subtracted from, our collective well-being and organisational productivity. We are faced with the critically important question of how we want to structure and organise our workplaces for the future.
Key findings from our research.
Our research, conducted in 2021, looks at the experience of working from home, and examines the evidence regarding productivity, mental health, and employee engagement. We consider the pros and the cons of embracing a new workplace paradigm and what organisations and employees might need to be thinking about as we look towards 2022 and beyond.
Our research participants identified numerous positive aspects of working from home:
94% felt as or more trusted by their line manager to work from home compared with pre-pandemic; trust is often cited as a major barrier to homeworking.
88% of respondents said that their productivity had improved or stayed the same during their time working from home; 51% noted an outright improvement. The myth that everyone working from home is actually sat on the sofa watching day time telly is busted once and for all.
71% were enjoying the fact they no longer had to commute to work. This is particularly prevalent for those for whom the commute does not afford the opportunity to exercise; and there is evidence to suggest that the longer the commute, the greater the detriment on mental health.
62% said their overall quality of life had improved since working from home – despite living through a pandemic! 46% said they enjoyed the increased flexibility in the way they worked.
But let’s also consider the flip side; participants also cited a number of challenges associated with intensive and extended working from home:
57% said they missed collaborating with colleagues face-to-face, and half said said they missed the natural social interactions that take place in a shared workspace.
52% reported a significant increase in their workload as a result of working from home and 51% reported the experience of burnout or fatigue. This sense of burnout was likely compounded by the myriad of challenges associated with the pandemic itself (home-schooling being up there for those in that position, social isolation, heightened anxiety, lack of space and suitable work set up etc etc) as well as the challenges of boundary management: 43% found it more difficult to separate work from home. This latter point is important because boundary management is a 'thing', pandemic or not.
And whilst 66% of survey participants said that they felt connected to their own team, as few as 45% reported that they felt connected to the organisation during the pandemic, representing something of a potential challenge for employee engagement,
Where do we go from here?
We have learned an important lesson in this last year: that when we really need to, we are able to make huge compromises for the greater good. We now need to consider the implications of longer-term home working once the pandemic is behind us. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define a new way of doing things, and avoid a binary 'one or other' perspective to think creatively about how we want to work in the future.
Our report: FutureWork outlines some food for thought for organisations – and employees – embracing new ways of working:
We need to change how we think about - and measure - productivity. Simply ‘turning up’ and putting in the hours does not cut it. Organisations need to smarten up and measure output, not input.
Beware creating a two-tier workforce of “innies and outies”.
We identify the BAIRE Necessities of home working: Boundary management, Autonomy and agency, Individualisation, Relatedness, and Equity. Consider each of these in turn.
We highlight the leadership challenges associated with embracing a new paradigm of work.
We outline some simple guidelines for employers considering next steps.
The workplace now needs leaders and employees with a new and progressive mind-set and the desire to revolutionise how and where we work. The possibilities and the opportunities are there and with new thinking, can be realised.
To download the full FutureWork report, please click here…