Long before coronavirus forced us all into our homes, the working world was already feeling the ripples of change. We saw it at our PA recruitment agency, with increasing requests for us to fill remote working positions.
Before the UK went into lockdown, half of all workers reported that they worked outside of their main office for 2.5 days a week or more. However, only 36% of them chose to work exclusively from home when working remotely. Overall, only 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home, often favouring other venues such as coffee shops. It seemed the homeworking revolution wasn’t quite taking off in the way many people anticipated.
Forced into homeworking
Then came coronavirus. For businesses and individuals, working from home was no longer a choice. As Mark Read, CEO of WPP admitted, “If you said to me five weeks ago that I would have 100,000 people working from home and we would function fine, I’d say you were mad.” Which begs the question: is homeworking here to stay?
Homeworking is more possible than we thought
Before homeworking became a reality for the majority of office workers, it was largely a theory, maybe even a dream for some. The stereotype of ‘working from home’ while watching box sets, catching up on laundry, and occasionally replying to an email gave the impression that it wasn’t real work. Employers feared their employees would be less productive, less conscientious, and less efficient.
However, the reality that Mark Read and many other employers have discovered is that their fears were unfounded. They’ve discovered that in many cases, their homeworking workforce has risen to the challenge admirably and is getting the job done. Some have even found themselves wondering whether homeworking could be a long-term option.
For some people, the right technology, adequate support from their employer, and focused communications means that homeworking suits them just fine. For example, we’ve seen that our PA workers in London have largely continued their work without much disruption.
The downsides of homeworking
Although we’ve experienced the pros of homeworking and its potential for the future, the unprecedented situation also gave us the chance to see the disadvantages of homeworking. In fact, some workers are itching to get back in the office. For example, managers and team leaders are finding it much harder and more time-consuming to manage remote teams. You can’t simply pop over to someone’s desk or keep a discreet eye on what’s going on.
Many workers are finding the distractions of home a hinder to productivity. Children, domestic tasks, or just a sunny garden can drag them away from their work. At the other extreme, the lines between work and home life have become blurred, with employees putting in extra-long hours and finding it hard to switch off.
For many of London’s younger workers, it’s been a struggle to work effectively in shared accommodation with limited space, or with housemates around and the many distractions that causes. The office wasn’t just a place of work for many people, but a change of scene and an important social outlet. Likewise for those who live alone and enjoy the company of working in-person with colleagues.
Is this the real start of the homeworking revolution?
Lockdown has certainly given everyone food for thought and has been a valuable practical experiment. It’s fair to say that the “new normal” will involve greater numbers of workers working from home in the future. What’s more, many employers are now more open to homeworking having seen that it’s possible to make a success of it. As such, it’s likely that many businesses will have to operate in this way for the foreseeable future. However, the downsides of homeworking mean that the office will inevitably continue to play an important role in people’s lives, whether it’s because of working arrangements, living arrangements, or to get social contact.
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