COVID-19. The very name of this disease strikes fear into the hearts of many. Arguably, none more so than business owners and employers who have, for the past two years, struggled to navigate government loans, grants, redundancies, a changed workplace culture and adoption of blended working – caused by the instruction to “work from home” rather than attend the office as is traditional. As we begin to exit this pandemic, many are asking if the world in which we live has changed forever, in particular our working habits. This article will address that question and discuss points of view on the future of the workplace.
If you had asked your boss three or four years ago to take your desktop computer, paperwork, in-and-out trays and your landline home, the answer would almost certainly be a look of confusion, a hearty laugh and a “no”. However, there are considerable benefits to working from home as well as some negatives which we will also discuss. People have savoured the new-found flexibility of blending day-to-day life with work, taking leave and even a better mental health state.
The workplace has evolved:
Bosses have come under scrutiny lately due to an apparent neglect of employees. For example, a friend of mine in the IT service desk industry had to get a more powerful internet package for his work. Luckily, this cost was fronted by his company. However, this is not always the case. For most workers, more electricity, water and gas has been consumed to power devices, to drink and to stay warm. With recent news that the cost of living is set to rise by hundreds of pounds per year, many are suggesting that if they work from home their salary should reflect this cost. This has not happened and has ensured that many have returned to the physical office.
The workplace culture has changed over the past two years socially too. As we were in lockdown for so long with pubs, cafés and bars closed, many did not see work colleagues for a long time. Thus, many realised they would rather spend time at home with their families and pets rather than come in to work with a group of people they do not really know. This also has a wider, and more unexpected, impact. For example, some coffee chains have decided to close many of their stores due to people working at home. Although chains closing stores may have a smaller impact, sadly many privately owned businesses have been forced to close during the pandemic due to a far smaller footfall from office workers – particularly in places like London’s financial district where rents are high, and income has been at an all-time low. Maybe this is a reason to get back to the office – building connections with fellow colleagues and helping boost local economies.
Commenting on the future of hybrid workplaces, a survey conducted by the BBC shows that 72% of workers believe that hybrid workplaces are the future – with the flexibility to choose if one works from home or in the office. The rest of the article will discuss how blended workplaces are likely to change things for the better as well as offering solutions to the more negative aspects of it.
Working from home:
There is a balance to be had from working at home. Many employers fear that productivity falls when employees work from home. After all, no-one is watching them, the oven should have been cleaned last year and the sock drawer really needs re-organising… However, it is important to trust your employees. When I say trust, I do not mean blind trust. You should expect the same level of productivity you get from your workers when they’re in the office – of course! However, without good reason (and by good reason, I mean consistently low productivity over the course of a period of time) you should avoid nagging or hounding your employees who work from home. You will only find that your good workers will begin to be frustrated and
You employees reading this – just remember working from home is not an excuse for poor work. Although I am sure that never crossed your minds, make your employer’s job easy by having a good record and then they will make your life easy should you decide to continue working from home or taking advantage of hybrid workplaces.
The mental health aspect:
Some employees have reported a more positive working experience being out of the office due to toxic office cultures such as competitiveness or simply not getting on with certain staff members. If this is the case, this may point to a larger problem. Perhaps create an employee wellbeing programme, implement an employee benefit system or analyse your company records regarding absenteeism to encourage workers back into the office. If a toxic workplace appears to be a problem in your company, it is worth examining these things before considering offering a blended workplace.
On the flip side of the coin, some employees have reported that they really do not like working from home and that, due to working from home, they struggle to separate their working life from their personal lives. Some have reported sleepless nights, worries about the next day’s work and a feeling that they are forced to be “on call” as all their work stuff at home. Again, if you would like to offer hybrid workplaces to staff, these things must be considered. An employee must not feel like they have to answer emails or phone calls outside of working hours.
As previously mentioned, there is a lack of social interaction if a worker works from home and this my negatively impact mental health. However, it may also serve a benefit to mental health. If someone is suffering a bereavement, has a mental health condition or is just having a bad day – they could decide not to go into the office and instead work from home. If an employee genuinely feels like they will work better from home that day, you may find an increase in productivity by offering blended workplaces.
So – mental health is an important consideration when it comes to introducing or continuing an existing hybrid scheme where working from home is an option. I encourage employers reading this article to think very carefully about hybrid workplaces and to ensure the reasons an employee chooses this form of work is healthy – not only for company productivity, but also for that employee’s mental health. If you have been affected by anything discussed in this article or want to improve your existing mental health schemes check out this article from the Mental Health Foundation.
So, how has your company changed? How has your business adapted to these changing times? I am sure it has changed a lot. Things have not been easy the past couple of years with instructions to “work from home if you can”. As discussed, many have found this flexibility useful – perhaps to the horror of employers trying to manage a team split across the office and at various home addresses! LeaveMonitor can help make the load lighter with our easy to use leave-booking management system. Click here for a trial to see what we can do for you. I wish you all the best in (what I hope to be) the last few months of disruption caused by COVID-19.
If you are further interested in this topic, click here for an interesting study from the University of Birmingham regarding working at home during the COVID-19 Lockdowns and the future of work.