Published Monday 26th July 2021
On the 19th of July, most legal restrictions regarding COVID-19 were lifted in the UK. After more than 12 months of lockdowns, social distancing and face masks, the government are now passing responsibility onto employers and employees.
One of the biggest decisions facing businesses at the moment is whether to continue with the practice of working from home. With passionate arguments for and against, we take a look at the broader picture – is working from home a necessity in the current circumstance, or can it become a successful and sustainable long-term practice?
For many businesses, working from home last year was a new experience. While some may have operated a hybrid model, few would have had months on end without any face-to-face contact before this period.
It’s important to stress that the success or failure of working from home varies greatly not just across industries but also across competing companies. However, there are common themes that have come out of the last twelve months.
A study by TalkTalk suggested that more than half of workers felt more productive than before when working from home. However, there’s a difference between feeling more productive and being more productive.
While arguments have been made about productivity, one of the biggest issues to emerge is working hours. Concerns about 24-hour emails and working through lunches have led some to suggest that productivity is up only because people are working longer.
Despite people working slightly more than before, there is a feeling among employees that working from home has been great for establishing a better work-life balance.
The last twelve months have notably shifted everyone’s life priorities. Being able to avoid the daily commute and instead spend the evening with family and friends is something that few people will want to lose.
One of the biggest tests for businesses over the pandemic has been keeping that spirit of collaboration. Office advocates will often argue that working from home misses those organic, unscheduled conversations that lead to professional and personal growth – moments that can’t be recreated over a Zoom call.
Many companies and analysts have reported on a growing disconnect for employees, as they lose the sense of camaraderie and belonging with their employers when not working in an office.
It’s also worth mentioning the impact of working from home on businesses that rely on the foot traffic of local offices. Many reports of struggling shops and cafes in inner-city locations raise questions about the future of city-living in a world where working from home could become the norm.
Is Working From Home Sustainable?
Over the last few months, many major companies have made decisions on whether to return to the office or continue working from home.
Opinions on the matter have varied across industries. Investment banks such as Goldman Sachs seem in favour of a full return to offices, whereas many banks are gravitating towards a hybrid model, with the majority of time spent working from home.
However, it’s clear that there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
An example is Google, who after announcing initially that staff would have the choice of working from home or not, now expects most staff to work in the office. Twitter, whose founder famously announced all staff could work from home forever, has also since clarified that this only applies to certain staff.
Balancing Worker’s Wants and Needs
After a year of working from home, the initial novelty is wearing off for some employers and employees. It’s clear that there are fundamental issues that will need to be solved before working from home can be seen as a practice to last over the next five or ten years.
One of the biggest problems is managing the various needs of workers. A survey by McKinsey suggested that more than half of employees now want at least three days of remote work a week. However, in the same survey, those employees also said that working from home had been a negative to their social network and sense of belonging and also caused more fatigue.
If companies want to start looking at working from home or hybrid models as a long-term solution, concerns around working hours, mental health and social belonging will need to be addressed.
Is Working from Home a Long-Term Solution?
The long-term future of working from home is full of uncertainty. Ultimately, the picture will vary greatly for companies based on:
Their industry – certain industries are more aligned to working from home.
Their tasks – specific job roles will be more adaptable than others.
Their employee demographics – certain groups of people are more able to work from home.
However, even in these areas, there can be variations. So, how do you decide whether to call all or some of your employees back into the office?
The first step will be communicating with employees to understand their experience of working from home. People’s wants and needs from their work have changed over the last 12 months, so it’s crucial to understand these first, then feed those into the long-term vision for the company post-COVID.
Here at Expense Reduction Analysts, we’ve worked with many major companies across various industries over the last twelve months. As we emerge from the pandemic, our team of industry experts are on hand to help you create long-term cost management strategies that help deliver Value Through Insight.
To understand more about how we can help your business, take a look at our case studies or contact us today.