A year working from home: reflections and the road ahead
In 2019, approximately 12% of people in employment in the UK reportedly worked from home, either regularly or occasionally. By April 2020, this proportion reached almost 47%. This sudden and extensive shift in working patterns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic meant millions of people across various industries found themselves working remotely for the first time and adapting with minimal time to prepare. Here, we break down some key lessons from working remotely over the past year and what impact these learnings may have on future working practices.
Productivity, work–life balance, and mental wellbeing
Prior to the pandemic, the traditional office was typically considered by many industries as the only place where work could be done effectively. However, with rapid progress in remote technology and IT capabilities and 63% of employees now reportedly feeling more productive at home than in the office, this thinking was quickly turned on its head. Avoiding the regular commute has been commonly cited as one major reason for these productivity gains, due to the time and financial savings, with many workers feeling more energised as a result. Conversely, the boundaries between work and home life have significantly blurred, particularly for parents. For many of these, what was previously called work–life balance could now be called life balance. Balancing competing work and domestic responsibilities, such as home-schooling and care of elderly relatives, has been one of the greatest challenges of lockdown and one of the main drivers of stress in many employees. In parallel, wellbeing has moved up the agenda significantly during the pandemic, with many organisations going the extra mile to support employees. It is more important than ever for managers and organisations to be empathic, lead by example, communicate an appreciation of exceptional efforts and encourage frequent, regular breaks and annual leave. Possible signs of stress or difficulty coping in colleagues, such as changes to usual behaviour and finding it harder to engage in conversation, are much easier to miss when working remotely; staying alert to them is a responsibility for employees and managers alike.
Workspaces, equipment and physical wellbeing
Employers are responsible for the health and safety of employees, including those working at home. This might include providing any necessary equipment and software for healthy homeworking, as well as the relevant training to use these tools. Having a dedicated workspace that is conducive to productive activity is also key (where circumstances allow!). Elements of this include a back-supported chair, raised computer screen, separate keyboard and mouse, adequate lighting, stable internet connection and secure data storage. In a recent survey, over half of employees complained of more aches and pains than normal in the neck, shoulder and back, as well as headaches and eye strain, so it is important that organisations encourage good ergonomic habits and either provide workspace health and safety assessments or guidance on how employees can conduct one themselves. Bioscript was pleased to work with James Crow, Posture Expert, to offer professional remote ergonomic assessments for all our employees.
Communication and team relationships
Although digital technologies have enabled everyone to remain connected while working from home, socialising and team building are still heavily dependent on the direct interpersonal contact that shared workspaces offer. Unplanned, informal socialising is difficult to replicate using digital tools. Common sentiments among employees include missing the ‘water cooler conversations’ and feeling less connected to colleagues, although social meetings have reportedly been good for morale. For new starters, having to build team relationships entirely remotely is an additional challenge on top of adapting to a new job.
While video calls have been an invaluable part of working from home, they also require much more intense focus than in-person interactions. They must be used strategically – excessive meetings, phone conversations and instant messages are disruptive to productivity, leading to so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’. Employers can consider the lack of movement that video calls entail and buffer meetings before and after with time to move, to rest the eyes or to stretch. Prolonged sitting without movement can be particularly harmful to health, wellbeing and productivity.
Supporting employees is paramount to wellbeing and sustaining performance. This can involve keeping in frequent contact with direct reports (for example, through one-to-one catchups) and conducting pulse surveys to identify where more support may be needed on a company level.
The move to remote working has not only changed the office dynamic, it is also changing the geographic footprint of some teams. Greater familiarity with remote working on a much wider scale means that employers can feel more able to recruit the very best candidates for a role, independent of location. In the last eighteen months, we have seen a hugely positive change in this respect at Bioscript. Colleagues in different countries and of different cultures have been brought together in ways that we might not have seen previously.
Over a year later, many organisations have demonstrated the ability to function effectively remotely, so it is perhaps not surprising that there is strong support to continue this in the long term – nine out of ten employees who worked at home in 2020 would like to continue doing so in some capacity. As there are pros and cons to both working styles, adopting a hybrid model that combines the option for both office and homeworking seems to be a popular choice going forward. This would bring back the social, collaborative and learning benefits from working in shared workspaces, while also retaining the flexibility that remote working brings. While a blended approach is unlikely to work for everyone, employers must be prepared to meet this demand with well-defined working policies that support both office-based and homeworkers. Some employers have expressed concern that those not working in the office will slow down and miss out on the latest opportunities, and that processes will need to be designed which address sharing of knowledge, co-ordination of work, communications and team relationships to ensure everyone feels healthy, engaged and productive.
If you are interested in learning more about how Bioscript has adapted to ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. For support in improving your wellbeing through better posture and ergonomics, both at your desk and beyond, contact James at email@example.com.