Happy Friyay! I hope we’ve been making the most of the sun in the UK this last week. I have been enjoying it when its not felt like I’m melting away. Today is definitely a Fri-yay with the return of the Euros today at 8pm with Italy facing Turkey. The weekend game I’m looking forward to the most is England v Croatia #ItsComingHome. For today’s blog I will be focusing on working from home (WFH); it’s been over a year of home working for most now and one immediate reflection is that the Friday WFH can no longer be viewed as a glorified day off.
Like the majority of people I started working from home full time in March 2020. This was a significant change from what I had been doing before, where I was working in the office essentially 5 days a week, with the option to WFH 2 days a week (although that was an option not frequently taken up, especially the use of full 2 days). WFH for over a year has, as you can imagine, been difficult. It initially took a period of adjustment; the lack of a second screen and the loss of immediate access to staff for quick questions was certainly felt. I also found that it blurred boundaries with competing deadlines/interests, for example receiving calls during meetings, which wouldn’t have happened in the usual office setting. With the loss of the immediate access to staff it meant that communication approaches had to be altered to accommodate the new working arrangements, this definitely increased the number of meetings that had to take place to progress work tasks, consequently taking away time to spend time doing work.
The 5 day office week could return within the next 2 years, but is the appetite there for staff to want to return to that working pattern? In short, no. Speaking for myself, following a year plus of WFH it feels extremely unnecessary to return to 5 days working in the office when circumstances change again and allow for it. This is a view shared by many as the graph above shows staff survey responses to how many days they’d like to WFH moving forward. It is apparent that staff now like the idea of either WFH fully or adopting the ‘Hybrid’ new normal way of working, which is essential a blend of home and office working, so splitting time between the office and home. I really like the idea of that, in my case I have a geographically diverse team across the UK, so my experience of working in the office would not significantly change my dynamic with my team. If employers do go ahead with this approach, it allows them to reconsider their important estate space, as there was a problem in accommodating all staff in both desks and meeting spaces in 2 out of my last 3 roles.
The pros of WFH are endless with the immediate one being the time gained not spent commuting. Whilst the aim is for COVID to become a thing of the past, it will serve as an additional benefit in encouraging sick staff to remain at home and work from there, rather than try and tough it out and potentially spread something to their fellow colleagues or strangers (The sickness absence rate for workers doing any work from home was 0.9% on average in 2020, compared with 2.2% for those who never worked from home in their main job.). WFH allows for much greater flexibility too, in terms of work, family & social life and other relationships. Staff can start work earlier or later, at hours much more suitable for their lives and still accommodating of their job. It can lead to a happier and healthier working life, I can certainly attest to that. The opportunity to save money is increased for both the employee and employer with an increase in WFH, employers have made huge savings over this last year not having to cover travel expenses for staff for example. One other benefit I noticed was the increased inclusivity WFH allowed. Staff have been able to attend more work engagements, as they are now held online and do not require in-person attendance. Online events also allow for increased engagement with the interactive features on MS Teams and Zoom.
The pitfalls of WFH have the potential to be pretty infinite too with mental health a major concern for a lot of employers as staff have experienced increased stress during the pandemic with all the uncertainty the situation has brought. In addition, the flexibility of WFH can also lead to burnout with employees working well over their standard hours. Whilst Teams and Zoom offer video capabilities, the nuances displayed in person can never fully be replicated online, or at least not in 2021. For agile teams one of the key elements is working closely together and speaking face to face to avoid miscommunication that can happen over email or text. Here are a few concerning statistics from ONS on WFH:
- The average gross weekly pay of employees who had recently worked from home was about 20% higher in 2020 than those who never worked from home in their main job, when controlling for other factors; this continues a long running trend.
- Employees who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other employees between 2012 and 2017, when controlling for other factors.
- Employees who mainly worked from home were around 38% less likely on average to have received a bonus compared with those who never worked from home between 2013 and 2020, when controlling for other factors.
- People who completed any work from home did 6.0 hours of unpaid overtime on average per week in 2020, compared with 3.6 hours for those that never worked from home.
- Homeworkers were more likely to work in the evenings compared with those who worked away from home in September 2020.
Productivity does not appear to have dropped substantially during this period of home working as was feared by employers prior to the pandemic, rather it has remained the same and even appears to have increased productivity as shown in the graph above. I feel hybrid working allows for a best of both worlds in balancing out the pros and cons that come with WFH; I like the idea of the blended approach particularly as it allows me to plan certain tasks for days when I am in the office for optimal work and adds more variety to daily life.