It’s the million-dollar question… Will the year (if not more) of enforced home working have permanently changed the way we work, or will everything go back to how it was?
There have been many stats floating around about the impact the pandemic has had on how we work, whether we’re more productive, happier, lonelier, want to return to the office or to continue working from home. There are lots of conflicting views out there, read one article and we’re all remote working masters, churning out more work and loving it, the next one we’re turning into socially inept hermits and spend all day on the sofa and not at our desks.
While we are still, unfortunately, very much in the middle of the corona crisis and have weeks, if not months of a 3rd lockdown ahead of us. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, in the shape of two vaccines. If the vaccination programme goes as planned, then we could see a return to some form of normality by the summer.
But what will that normality look like?
There is no doubt that 2020 proved that remote working can work. That the world does not stop if employees aren’t sitting at their desks between 9-5, five days a week. The argument that working from home is just a euphemism for sitting on the sofa with your feet up has been disproved. In 2020 projects still happened, sales were made, and the work got done. Employers will find it hard to argue that their employees can’t work from home, or that they have to be present at their desk in order to be productive.
However, that doesn’t mean total remote working is the right thing for everyone or every company. Even as remote working advocates, we know that it has limitations. We closed our last office nearly 4 years ago. But when we were allowed, we still met in person for full company updates and in smaller groups for key projects. There is no escaping the fact that a group meeting on Zoom or Skype, just is not the same as being sat around the same table together. Ideas, discussion and general creativity work best when people are together.
As we’ve covered in previous blogs, the move from an office, to a home-based job limits your human interaction. Obviously, we are in a unique situation now where any in-person interaction outside of your household is prohibited. However, work plays an important social role for many. Working at home all the time can be isolating, especially if you live alone. I know looking back at my own experience, when I was younger, my colleagues were also my friends and I enjoyed being in the office altogether. Most of my social activity and practically every Friday night involved people I worked with. Without an office, I would not have made such strong friendships, friendships that helped and improved working relationships. While the flexibility of working remotely a few days a week would have been appreciated, especially with my 60min plus commute, it is not something I’d have wanted to do every day.
Space also needs to be taken into consideration. A home office, a room where the door can be shut to keep noise and people out and work in at the end of the day, is a luxury for many. The utopian dream of remote working does not consider the sky-high rents involved in living in some locations. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to have suitable working space in their home, especially those just starting out. You just had to look at social media in March to see a flurry of images of hastily put together workspaces. While working from a desk in the corner of a bedroom or the kitchen table is possible, it’s not a long-term, practical solution.
No one has a crystal ball to see the future, if they did, I’d like to think we’d have been given some form of heads up about 2020! However, my predictions are that corona isn’t the death of the office, but more the birth of a more flexible hybrid working world. Offices will exist and people will still work in them, however now the home working cat has been let out of the bag, employers will have to have a more open attitude. My hope is that employees will be given the flexibility and autonomy to find a working pattern that works for them and their employer. Whether that means remote working all the time, 1 or 2 days a week or being in the office for the full 5 days.