In recent months, work life has taken on a new look. The changes enforced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have led to many people ditching the office in favour of the dining room table – or, if you’re lucky, the home office – in a strange, pyjama-clad nine ‘til five that nobody anticipated. Prior to the national lockdown, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that less than 30% of the UK workforce had worked from home, whereas April 2020 saw 49.2% of people working out-of-office (and dressing office-appropriate from the waist up for Skype meetings).
With many companies across a wide range of sectors providing employees with the means to work from home, many are asking: will this be a long-lasting legacy of lockdown? We’ve looked into the positives and negatives of this unconventional way of working, to see whether the future could involve a little less commuting, and a little more time dressing down.
Bringing the work-life balance back home
The work-life balance is a hard one to get right. Struggling to find an equilibrium between the two can be detrimental to mental health, as it’s often the ‘life’ part of the deal that gets less attention. By introducing remote working, it’s become easier than ever to find that compromise, with more time available for doing what you enjoy. According to a study by Finder, the UK’s average daily commute time stands at around 59 minutes. By working from home, employees save five hours of transport time, and benefit from catching a few more Z’s before the alarm goes off.
With no cause for rush in the mornings before the start of the working day, more families are also able to spend breakfast together. School closures have meant that children are studying at home, and with the flexibility allowed through remote working, parents have more opportunities to spend time with their kids. Lunch breaks can, if necessary, be spent doing those chores that you’d usually do after work, meaning that further time can be devoted to doing what you love or simply relaxing after your super-long commute from the home office to the living room.
Working towards a healthier planet
In 2020, one of our biggest concerns is the environment. On Earth Day, a poll found that 77% of office workers believe that working from home is an effective way to help the environment – most likely due to the fact that it eliminates the need to commute and causes less traffic in the dreaded rush hour. Elsewhere, the power usage of office buildings is often outside of the employee’s control, whereas working remotely allows individuals to monitor their energy consumption and reduce unnecessary power usage in their own homes.
The reduction in air pollution is not only a benefit for the environment, but correlates with the health of the population. Research conducted by the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge found that in areas where pollutant levels were higher, there were more cases of coronavirus. 13 of the UK’s largest cities have seen a significant drop in air pollution as more people work from home, with London seeing a huge decrease of 34.29%. This is good news for the planet, our lungs, and our wellbeing, and must play its part when we consider long-term remote working.
Alongside the eco-friendly benefits, employee eating habits and mental health are improved by being based at home. Having the freedom to cook healthier meals and being in charge of the working environment has an effect on both physical and mental wellbeing, and self-control and autonomy have been linked to positive outcomes for out-of-office workers. Whilst your newfound freedom may lead to more rendezvous with the fridge than you’d like, there are benefits if you can remain in control of your habits, which is easier when you make – and stick to – a schedule.
Research conducted by Finder found that 65% of workers said they would be more productive in a home office than a normal office. Alongside the time spared, the average employed worker is also saving £44.78 every week. From reducing the amount of ready-made food purchased for lunches to saving money on transport, many employees are financially better off when allowed to work from home. The freedom of tailoring the timetable of the day has seen results, as two-thirds of employers reported an increase in productivity in remote workers compared to workers based in the office.
Dealing with the downsides
Working from home does not automatically lead to happier employees, with a lot of workers not having the luxury of a home office. In fact, trying to find a suitable workspace has led to anxiety for many. Work in Mind columnist Ben Channon suggests some simple ways to reduce the stress of less-than-ideal spaces. Separating the bedroom from makeshift offices aids the separation of work and leisure. Staying active – whether that is in the form of a run outside or climbing stairs indoors – boosts mood and dissipates lethargy. Moving desks closer to the window increases production of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin.
Another downside to working from home is missing out on office ‘banter’ and finding less chances to socialise with others. A staple of getting through the working week, it can be tough without the human interaction that arguably keeps us sane. Finder saw that 30.9% of remote workers have struggled with loneliness when working remotely, which can be improved through company wellbeing services. Creating an approachable channel of communication can help those feeling alone, and employees can also try to add more socialising into their evening schedules.
Preparing for the ‘new normal’
As remote working continues for many post-lockdown, some changes need to be made in order to make it successful long-term. 62% of remote workers told Finder that they wanted employers to provide better technology to help them stay connected to co-workers, and as a society it is likely that a reimagination of socialising will need to take place. Now, more than ever, is the time to invest in technology that makes it easier for us to connect and come together over video calling, and ensure that the upsides of the office are not lost to the often radio silence of working from home.
Businesses will need to make significant adjustments for the work at home model to become a permanent fixture, and part of the process has to be providing employees with the freedom to choose. Remote working isn’t for everyone, and it’s only by giving people the option that this new form of employment will work. Whether we opt for a half-and-half split or say goodbye to the office altogether, we are certainly looking towards a future where the world of work is changing for the better, though getting used to the ‘new normal’ will bring benefits and growing pains over the next few years.