Working From Home - Why the office isn't dead
Posted by Deborah Wilder on 16/06/2020
Working from home...
Lifestyle choice, corporate cost cutting, or troubled times?
Schools without classrooms or playgrounds. Restaurants, cafes and bars without social spaces. Football matches without live audiences. Businesses without workplaces… What would all of these be without the shared experience? Could we be missing out on what it means to be human?
For the last few months many of us have not had a choice but to work from home. Here we discuss what the wider implications of longer-term home working could be.
It’s a dilemma. On the one hand there are the people who are totally relieved that they’re not commuting. They feel like they’ve got their lives back, their productivity has increased dramatically and they’re managing to exercise, sleep more and eat healthily. On the other hand there are the people who are lonely and demotivated working from home “I don’t have a desk or a decent chair. I’ve been driven crazy by the monotony of sitting in the same place all day with no face-to-face social interaction and nobody to learn from or bounce ideas off.”
It may suit those who have a good work from home set up, are very self-motivated and work independently. But it’s an unappealing option for many such as those living in shared households, sometimes with not even a table or desk. AA research during lockdown found that a surprisingly large number of under 25 year olds were even working in their cars!(1) and people are increasingly missing the interaction at the office.
Creating spaces throughout your workplace to accommodate everyone's feelings about returning to work is a must. Don't assume how people might feel or react to the experience but rather be prepared to tailor for every need. Booths, such as this one, offer a quiet and personal retreat, encouraging people back to the office by providing a safe place to work.
Cost Cutting Exercise
Many businesses’ turnover has decreased significantly. In some cases sources of revenue may have dried up totally. CFOs are looking for ways to cut costs. But having people work from home may not necessarily be the answer. Think about your real estate costs: owning or leasing and running an office. They’re about 10% of the cost of your staff, a relatively small proportion of your overhead. Businesses need to think carefully about cutting costs on a critical element of support for the people in whom they have invested and without whom they wouldn’t have a business?
This isn’t the time to have everybody working on their own at home, effectively in micro silos. This is the time when you want them to be their most innovative, their most resourceful, their most creative, their most supported.
Returning to the office doesn't have to be a daunting or worrying experience. Encourage those interactions, those chance catch ups that lead to something great, but offer the space to do it in safely and responsibly. It is important to create an environment your employees can return to with confidence, and we can help you with that!
Return to troubled times?
We may feel that we are in unprecedented times. But as far as mass home working is concerned, we’ve been here before. Until the 19th century, most people worked at or close to their homes. In 1899 the conditions of those working from home were so concerning that the House of Commons introduced a Bill allowing inspectors to visit people at home to check they were safe. This was described as a ‘crusade against the evils of homework’(2). There were strong concerns about homeworkers feeling isolated in their homes with decreasing levels of social interaction. They described social contact in factories as a compensating factor to this isolation and thought it was essential in terms of the culture and teamwork of an organisation.
There is a concern that if we place more emphasis on the home and significantly reduce our office provision, history could repeat itself. We could return to the difficulties of the cottage industries of the 1900s, only this time in our ‘electronic cottages’.
FOMO and clunky, stilted communications
At home we are effectively blind to some of the things that are going on. If we were ever ones to suffer from FOMO, now is the time. We can’t look over to the meeting room and see who’s in there. We can’t see who’s going for lunch with who. We can’t see who’s working at the project table together. Seeing and taking part in the natural meet-ups by the coffee points that lead to exciting ideas are lost.
What’s more, the quality of virtual communications, although having allowed us to stay connected and functioning, is far from ideal. Video meetings are unnatural, clunky and stilted. They have been an excellent solution during lockdown and will be a fantastic resource going forward to help us save time, money and the environment. But for now the mood is turning back towards face to face, real person to person interactions.
Simple changes, such as providing and encouraging new ways of working, will give your employees the variety they need to thrive as they return to work. Don't just think about Perspex between desks, think about the abundance of workspaces you have in your office right now that you may not consider work stations, such as sofa areas, breakout tables and meeting rooms, and turn these into new ways of working.
Everything in moderation
As ever, it will be a case of balance. Almost everyone now accepts that we can work from home effectively for some of the time. But some roles, some individuals, some tasks, will suit home working better than others and this will need careful consideration and individual assessment. We strongly believe that for most people, the majority of their working time is better spent in a workplace with others, rather than sitting at home on their own.
If you would like some help with your workplace strategy beyond Covid19, please get in touch. We can also offer support with return to the office planning post lockdown, get in touch for your free guide HERE
1. Getting out of the house during lockdown. AA research, April 2020.
2. An end to home working? Bolton, The Fabian Society ,1975.