Working from Home?

Are you working from home? Do you enjoy it? Given a totally free choice how would you like to split your time between working from home and working in the office? These are questions facing not just many millions of people in the UK, but hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Prior to 2020 these were questions open to only a few, but the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything about how we work and, as touched upon in my ‘Virtual vs Reality’ article last week, it can be argued that there are advantages to both.

It is of course only normally office workers that this WFH debate is flowing around, and whilst statistically many of these are more senior positions, it does of course also include many in the startup world and numerous other job roles as well. Over the course of the year the arguments put forward by the government have varied from ‘work from home if you possible can in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19’ through to ‘go back to the office in order to stop our city centres from dying’.

Given the ebbs and flows of the rate of infections, and the varied advice being given from time to time, it is not surprising that employers, employees, and even potential new tax legislation are all unsure about what the future will hold. What is certain is that the physical working environment in 2021 will be very different to that that was seen in 2019.

In a recent large survey conducted by CBRE, only 6% of respondents replied that they wanted to return to the office full time and only another 10% wanted to return for the majority of the week. Compared to this total of 16%, almost 28% stated that they had seen the full benefits of working from home and wished to stay working fully remotely. But the biggest conclusion from the survey is that 57% of people wanted to work a minimum of 2 days per week, every week, from home or, at least, not in the company offices.

According to the TUC, pre Covid-19, many requests for flexible working were rejected by employers, but in 2020 and 2021 it will often be the employer that will be seeking such arrangements or, at the very least, be much more open to proposals from their staff. Much other research suggests that whilst many people will not want the long commute into major city centres there will be demand for more local work hubs that will give options other than just working from the home every day. 

Some individuals might see this as an acceptable expenditure for part of their time, especially as many will have saved costs from not doing the regular commute. But it is also considered that many employers will consider paying for such expenses for many, especially more senior staff. The benefits of such environments are that by escaping from the distractions of family life it might be more possible to concentrate on specific tasks, as well as bringing back that basic human need of social interaction. Indeed, if such work hubs are well located then it enables the users to go out and buy coffee and lunch as is the norm when working from more traditional environments.

What 2020 has taught us is that with modern computer and communication technology, many can be every bit as effective at working from home as from the traditional office. However, we have also learned that we as humans actually benefitted in the past by the change of scenery that commuting to the office gave us, and benefitted even more from the face to face interaction; all of which is missing when working solely from home.

As with so many aspects of 2020, the smartest of us will manage to merge the best parts of our pre-pandemic working lives and all the best lessons learned from 2020 and merge the two. This way we should both be more productive and stay sane.