Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, working from home was not the norm for most people. For those that did, often it was only one or two days a week. In the weeks leading up to the government locking down the country, many office-based companies decided to transition to remote work to protect their staff.
Now, over four months later, lockdown measures are being eased in many parts of the country. With the lifting of restrictions, people can start going back into the office. While this may be welcomed by some, others may be less willing or able to start commuting again and transition back to office life.
According to Hubble’s recent, 68% of people who worked from home during the pandemic had a positive experience, while only 7% reported a negative experience and the remaining 23.2% had a neutral experience. So even though it could now be possible to start working at the office again, is it necessary? What things do we need to take into consideration before rushing back to office work?
Now is the ideal time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t about remote working, and whether we can change our practices for the better.
While many of us were not expecting having to work remotely for so long, working from home brought some benefits that could still be beneficial as we transition back to office work post-pandemic.
Before lockdown, had between a 30 and 60 minute commute to and from work, and 20% commuted for over an hour. That all changed during lockdown for home-workers, meaning that time could either be spent with their family or housemates, or sleeping a little longer. This extra time can lead to candidate who are less stressed and more likely to stay in their role.
While your people may be saving money on commuting, your company may also be able to save money. Whether you go forward as a partially or even entirely remote company, you could save money on office rent, by choosing to switch to a smaller office or doing away with the office entirely. This also comes with benefits such as no need to buy office supplies or snacks. Some companies have decided to use these savings to .
If your company is continuing to work from home, you can hire remotely. This means your candidates are not only those who live within commuting distance to your office (or are willing to relocate), but you can open your position to anyone anywhere in the world. Opening up your candidate pool means you can attract the best talent from anywhere in the world. If you broaden your candidate pool such as your candidate sourcing, or onboarding, you can easily filter the best candidates down your pipeline.
For people who live with others, be it a partner, family or housemates, working from home has meant people can spend more time with the people they care about. Rather than breaks being taken at the water cooler or in the work canteen, breaks can be taken in the living room or in the kitchen with family members.
The flexibility that remote work brings also brings benefits, with many workers feeling more productive.
Even though there have been some benefits of working at home, some people have experienced significant drawbacks.
Although there is less time spent commuting when working from home, the workday can still be longer with a new study showing the average workday during the pandemic has increased working hours. The blurring of work and home life, childcare duties and stresses of an impending recession has led to many people working longer hours and logging into work out of hours more often.
Dealing with interruptions can also mean people work longer, wanting to make up for lost time. However, as many people are in the same situation, bosses and colleagues are more likely to be sympathetic to these situations.
It is important to recognise that home isn’t an ideal workspace for everyone. For workers who live alone, lockdown has been an isolating experience, and for workers who live in abusive home environments, lockdown may have been.
Some employers have paid for ergonomic home office equipment to help make their staff’s new workspaces more comfortable than perching at the kitchen table. Some people have also realised that they need more space at home for an office so are considering moving out of the city to a more spacious property.
If you are considering making your team remote, then private conversations with your team members can help identify these situations so you can work together to create solutions.
If you’ve been working from home solidly since lockdown started, you may be familiar with ‘’Zoom Fatigue"- that is the feeling of exhaustion from the amount of video conference meetings you’re having. On video calls, we have to work harder to pay attention to non-verbal cues, alongside dealing with technical issues like your screen freezing, echoes or lagging connections.
For people who live alone, the pandemic has hit their social life pretty hard. Even for people who live with family or housemates, it has been tough not seeing friends, or even getting a break from the people you live with. For many of us, going to work is a chance to catch up with colleagues and even see friends after work.
Before lockdown every afternoon at Zinc, we would down tools for half an hour for a tea break and to play a card game. It was really important for us to have that break and to socialise with the team and it really helped us beat that 3pm slump! Once we shifted to a fully remote team, we found we still needed to schedule social time. We created virtual tea breaks where we chatted over Google Hangouts and played online games (this varied from ‘What’s in my fridge?’ to an online drawing game) and we even hosted virtual takeaway evenings in place of our socials. Taking the time to come together socially as well as for work meetings helped boost morale and break up the work day.
Whilst it’s still possible to chat with friends over Skype or Zoom, it doesn’t beat catching up face-to-face.
If you are wanting to return to office life, there are some considerations you need to make, not only to stay safe, but also to learn from the benefits of working from home.
Review your office layout and ensure your colleagues can work safely and maintain the proper distance between each other. You may also need to review your cleaning policies and procedures to ensure the workspaces are sanitary and safe.
Some changes may need making before you bring everyone back in. For example, if you were hot desking before, can you ensure each workspace is cleaned before the next person arrives, or is it possible to allocate fixed desks for people to work at? If you had fixed desks, is there enough space between each desk? Can you rearrange the desks to give everyone more space, or install perspex screens between desks? If your office was particularly crowded, you may need to consider staggering groups, alternating between working from home and in the office, to limit the amount of people in each room.
Once you have worked out how your office will function safely post-lockdown, you will need to think about how your people can get to and from the office. Depending on where your offices are located, it may be difficult for some people to get in the office without taking lengthy journeys on public transport.
It may be the case that you decide you don’t need a permanent office space for your company. However, there are some things that just work better face-to-face. If you decide to cancel the lease on your office, it may be a good idea to create a budget for teams to hire workspaces for short periods or retreat weeks where you can get the bulk of the work done together. It can help your team to bond as well.
Allowing your teams to hire spaces as and when they need them can help build their sense of autonomy and flexibility in their work.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating this transition back to work. Every company will have had different challenges, and each employee has a different WFH experience. When designing your transition back to the office, you’ll need the input of your people.
Get feedback from your team to review what worked and what didn’t.
If you have a small team, this may be done over a video conference, but if you have a larger team, you may want to send out a survey. Whichever you choose, make sure they all have the chance to make their voice heard.
Some people may still need to shield because they or a family member is vulnerable, while some may still have care duties at home. See what you can do to ensure they can work safely and not put themselves or their loved ones at unnecessary risk.
Whatever you decide is best for your team, now is a good time to review your work practices and update your work culture to ensure you have happy, productive teams as we transition into post-pandemic working environments.