When the world was forced to adjust to the Coronavirus pandemic, most organisations did something they never would have dreamt of doing. They closed their offices and rolled out home working for all employees. Of course, it wasn’t long before many realised that they could still operate very well, without using the building that has always been a central working location for their entire workforce. Video conferencing and collaboration tools proved that constant contact and communication can be easily maintained, and platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Slack, suddenly became very important, everyday tools.
Businesses that had previously been sceptical about letting staff work from home swiftly realised that being present in the central office wasn’t as essential as they thought, and consequently, home working is now being re-evaluated by companies all over the world.
Large organisations like Twitter, and Square, are already using the revelations of a lockdown as an opportunity, quickly declaring that their workers can work from home ‘permanently’, from as early as May. Google and Facebook have announced that they are extending their work from home policies to the end of the year (possibly longer), and last week, technology firm Fujitsu announced a permanent work from home plan, explaining that it will halve its office space in Japan to adapt to the “new normal” brought on by the pandemic.
Most recently, Shopify announced that it will rethink its office space, whilst declaring that staff will continue home working until 2021. Tobi Lutke, Shopify’s CEO even Tweeted that he believed- “Office centricity is over.”
But is that the truth? Is permanent home working the way forward? And does that mean we still need a central office?
Well, our advice would be that, before you make any rash decisions by cutting back on or evacuating your office space, consider the impact of long-term home working on staff. It’s safe to say that at the beginning of lockdown, many workers initially embraced the novelty of staying in their comfy clothing and spending more time with their families, and very few missed the long commutes to and from the office. However, as we swiftly approach the fifth month of working from home- we must question –has that novelty worn off?
The global financial company Jefferies recently decided to ask their staff that question and surveyed 1,500 UK workers. They found that 61% of respondents said they would to return to work immediately if they could.
Why? Because, like most things in life, there must be balance. Implementing home working to improve the way staff work can be very effective but using the home for work on a permanent basis, will certainly have a negative impact.
The blurred lines between work and life
Our research has shown that people working from home in the long term, often state that they miss leaving their office desk at the end of the day, as it indicates that you have finished working. Turning off your computer and leaving the office is a conclusive act that enables a worker to quickly switch off from their role. However, there is much less of a differentiation between the ‘you’ at work and the ‘you’ in your personal life when working permanently at home, which means you are much more likely to work longer, to check your emails regularly out of working ours, or go back to a project and continue to work in your own time.
Many people working from home tend to work around 10 hours a day, which at first may not sound too lengthy- but that extra 2 hours per day mounts up to a very significant 40 hours extra every month- which is the equivalent of cramming an extra 3 months of work in per year. This inevitably leads to issues with stress, burnout and other complications that occur when the work/life balance becomes blurred.
We’ve also found through our questionnaires, that homeworkers often feel obliged to be available when they are aware that management are online, which also extends their working day significantly.
In addition to the extra hours worked, many people may not be working in an environment that best suits their work. The general disturbances and distractions of a home are certainly a big hurdle in making home working right, which is why we have always recommended having a central office that supports a home working policy. This way, the home can be used according to the individual’s needs, and the office can also serve the more transient, remote worker.
Communication, interaction and connections
One thing many of us will have learnt during lockdown, is the true power of interaction. Yes, we can get by with Zoom, and yes, we can communicate efficiently, but face-to-face interaction encourages something very different. Impromptu, by-chance interactions, conversations, humour and human connections are definitely not occurring through video conferencing platforms, in the way that they do through face-to-face interactions, and this is why many of us miss being in an office.
In our experience, when long term home workers miss out on these exchanges, there is a drop in morale, and the gradual feeling of being distant and detached from your team.
So, when assessing whether you could save on office space, or whether you can save money by being one of the organisations that abolishes its workplace entirely, consider the value and importance of staff connecting with one another. Hopefully some form of normality will return soon and depending on how it does, most will be pleased to return to an office environment that provides a hub of communication, interaction and connection.
Developing and maintaining a workplace culture when staff work disparately from their home environments, on the other hand, will be very difficult. So, we should remember that, whilst home working is a wonderful thing- so is the central office environment that brings people together- and a balance of both is always king.