As lockdowns once again require working from home, it seems we’re in this for the long-haul. Employers are already making decisions that will have implications for years to come; the biggest of which being “do we even still need an office?”
Is working from home really the next step in business evolution? Or should companies be more cautious about cancelling or downgrading office spaces?
Nobody wished for a pandemic, but for many professionals the abrupt switch to remote working has brought welcome benefits.
Commuting, for most professionals, is both costly and tiresome. According to research from the BBC England Data Unit, employees spend up to a fifth of net salary on commuting. The Royal Society for Public Health published a report showing that 55% of commuters suffer from increased stress. The average UK commute takes 56 minutes.
In many senses, then, working from home offers employees a higher ‘effective’ net salary, more free time and the chance to live a less stressful lifestyle.
What’s good for employees is often good for business. If working from home can improve happiness, great; but what about productivity?
A popular study in China known as the Ctrip experiment found that remote working boosted productivity by 13%. This was because employees took fewer sick days, shorter lunch breaks and worked more minutes per shift.
Companies clearly have a strong incentive to avoid the significant costs associated with operating physical offices. It’s not hard to see why the IoD found that 74% of 1000 businesses planned on maintaining home working practices. Half of those companies planned to decrease their long-term usage of workplaces.
What’s The Cost?
Just because technology has allowed us to work from home, it doesn’t mean we necessarily should. Many of us prefer the office buzz and working from home isn’t all sunshine and roses.
This is because remote working isn’t always as practical as it sounds on paper, with cramped living conditions, childcare requirements and poor internet impacting employees’ ability to work productively. Indeed people with these issues were actually excluded from the Ctrip experiment, proving that remote working might be circumstantial, rather than an absolute necessity.
The office also answers an important social need. According to Bruntwood Works, ‘the people’ were what 29% of office workers missed most about office life. In fact, 66% considered their colleagues as close as family.
Bill Gates believes home-workers will establish deeper connections with their local community and loved ones to fill this ‘social hole’.
"The amount of social contact you get from your work may go down, and so your desire to get more social contact in your community with your friends […] might go up because, particularly, if we're doing a lot of remote work, then our desire to socialise, our energy to socialize after we stop working, will be quite a bit greater.”
Social distancing restrictions continuing into 2021 will create challenges for us. Lack of face to face interaction can be a problem and offices should try to tackle feelings of isolation.
Maintaining healthy working connections is an important focus for many businesses. For example, Julia Ganol loved that her company kept up ‘Toasty time’ where they would all prepare toast sandwiches and snacks and meet together on video to chat and eat.
For now, working from home is often not a choice, but a requirement. As big decisions loom, though, all of us – both employees and employers – need to consider what will work best in the long term.