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The impacts of working from home during COVID-19

Insight into the positive and negative impacts, both for employees and employers, that working from home can have.

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The last few weeks have brought huge changes to businesses and the world as a whole; we find ourselves in this surreal situation amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Governments across the world have encouraged working from home where possible, meaning that many businesses have been forced to adapt to new ways of working.  While there is huge uncertainty about how businesses and the economy will be affected over the coming months, we do have insight into the positive and negative impacts, both for employees and employers, that working from home can have.

Employees – positives

Lack of commute

The COVID-19 lockdown has meant that the hassle of a commuting has been erased from many employees’ days. Commutes can take up a significant proportion of the day and our research with Visa found that 46% of consumers are actually seeing their commuting times increase. A lack of commute can mean improved stress levels and a better work life balance, as our research found that 52% of consumers get frustrated with the experience of public transport. Factoring out the time spent on a daily commute allows for more time, both at the start and end of the day, to focus on aspects of personal life such as family or exercise. In particular, during the lockdown people seem to be taking advantage of the extra time at home by exercising, when perhaps they wouldn’t have before.

Cutting costs

A lack of commute also means that employees do not incur the costs of traveling back and forth to work each day, which can add up to a few hundred pounds saved a month. On top of this, there are savings to be made from no longer buying a six-pound sandwich from Pret each day and instead making a cheaper (and probably healthier!) lunch at home. Furthermore, now there are less strict company dress codes to abide to, money can be saved in this area too.

Employees – negatives

Work life im-balance

Sometimes it can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work when there aren’t clear boundaries between work and home. Remote workers can often find themselves carrying on with tasks after working hours with the temptation to keep sending ‘just one more email’. While interviewing workers with Asana, we found that 30% of remote workers often or always work late. Although this may be seen as a benefit from an employer’s point of view, it may have a negative effect on job satisfaction for employees in time and could make them more prone to burnout. However, dedicating a specific area or room at home to work (and only work) and arranging plans for after-work hours can help with maintaining a healthy work life balance.

Less human interaction

Remote working can create a social barrier between colleagues as being out of the office means there will be significantly less human contact as a whole, with no more general office chat or weekly socials. For new joiners in particular, working from home means they are at somewhat of a disadvantage in getting to know new colleagues on a more personal level, compared to how they would normally. However, the ability to host internal meetings and even sometimes ‘virtual after work drinks’ over video chat could be a way of getting around this.

Employers – positives

Happier employees

Generally, flexible working is seen to be a top job perk, which in turn can boost employee morale and job satisfaction. Maintaining happy employees is likely to translate to a lower turnover of staff, consequently reducing costs and wasted time in recruitment. When working with Cleanology we found that the act of being out of the office alone is shown to have an effect on perceived health levels, as 50% of employees described feeling healthier if they work from home for a couple of days a week.

Increased productivity

Most of us have probably been faced with a few nudges and winks from acquaintances after telling them that you’re ‘working from home’ today. However, working from home is actually shown to have numerous associations with increased productivity; our research with Wellness Together highlighted that higher profitability is actually associated with companies that have greater agility and offer flexible working practices. Indeed, online meetings that do happen are undoubtedly a lot more efficient and to the point than they would be in-person, with less excuses for extended chats and distractions.

Upskilling with remote working technology

If there’s one skillset that employees will gain by working from home, it’s the ability to use conference call tools. Thanks to various video conferencing applications offering free versions and features to businesses, they are now being used more than ever – Zoom, Google hangouts, Skype, Slack, Teams.. the list goes on. These tools have even extended out of the workplace for uses like exercise classes and book clubs during the lockdown period. Our research with Loopup found that an average of 15 minutes is wasted during a typical conference call, just from waiting for members to join, challenges with technology and other distractions. The more frequent use of conference call tools should see a reduction in this wasted time.

Employers – negatives

Distractions

Considering that whole offices have had to shift to working from home in a matter of days, some employees may struggle to adjust. Remote workers need to be highly self-disciplined in order to avoid being distracted by home based interruptions. While employers will have concerns around employees getting their work done, the likelihood is that over time it will become apparent who is and isn’t pulling their weight. Scheduling daily internal updates makes it possible to maintain a clearer overview of the tasks that employees are doing and helps to balance workloads.

Less team cohesion

The lack of close contact with colleagues also means that there is less spur of the moment collaboration when working on projects together or trying to find a solution to a problem. This may mean that work isn’t performed as efficiently as it could be in the office, but encouraging the use of chat tools like Microsoft teams or Slack which allow colleagues to share screens with one another can help to counter this. 

Looking forward

While working remotely probably feels quite novel for most of us at the moment, it may be that the COVID 19 lockdown actually acts as a huge national experiment, testing whether remote working is something that can be more widely adopted in the future. Looking ahead, it’s clear that there are more long-term benefits to gain from a gradual shift of more people working from home.

If businesses went on to adopt more flexible working practices in the future this could cut costs considerably, especially for those based in big cities. Office rent, maintenance and monthly bills will be reduced if businesses choose to take a ‘hot desking’ approach, as there will be no need to cater for full office capacity every single day.

Taking on a long-term flexible working approach will also mean that employers are no longer restricted to hiring professionals within their local area. Talent can be recruited from across the country which may mean that employers can find staff better suited to the vacancy. The complimentary benefit of this being that employees will have more flexibility in where they live, erasing the need to live in a busy, expensive city.