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Edward Manson

Working from home where possible continues to remain prevalent during this lockdown period, with unprecedented numbers of people following stringent Government instructions. With that in mind, the employment landscape looks set to dramatically alter, on a permanent basis, following the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that technological advances, changing organisational cultures, a shift away from the traditional 9-5 and the current circumstances mean that working from home will inevitably become more widely accepted, even when the economy reopens. This is because businesses have proven, time and again over the past several weeks, that it can be executed successfully with little to no detrimental impact on productivity.

In fact, a report from research firm Valoir has found that the abrupt move to working from home as a result of COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a mere 1% reduction in productivity. It also found that 40% of workers would prefer to work remotely full time in the future.

Twitter has told staff that they can work from home "forever" if they wish as the company looks towards the future after Coronavirus. The astonishing decision came as the social media giant said its working from home measures during the lockdown had been a success.

Facebook also announced that the majority of its employees will be allowed to work from home through to the end of 2020. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company Alphabet plans to open offices for roughly 15% of workers in June with the majority continuing to work from home, again until at least the end of the year.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 30% of UK employees worked from home during 2019. Research from comparison site Finder has since revealed that this figure doubled in 2020, with 60% of the UK’s adult population thought to be working from home at the peak of the Coronavirus lockdown. 

This comes as Barclays boss Jes Staley said that having thousands of bank workers in vast, expensive city offices "may be a thing of the past,” which will inevitably result in some office closures across the UK.

It is also worth taking a look at other countries and what their governments are doing to help economies to recover following Coronavirus. Germany, for example, is considering the introduction of a permanent “right to work from home” law, which will apply long after the country’s lockdown has ended.

The simple fact is that employees generally appreciate a company that allows them to work from home, particularly having had the chance to experience it for themselves in recent months. 

When surveyed, 65% of workers said that they thought that they would be more productive in a home office rather than a normal office. 75% of workers felt that they were more productive due to reduced distractions and 83% of employees expressed that they do not need an office to be productive. In addition, two-thirds of employers report increased productivity for remote workers compared to in-office workers. 

According to Google Trends, at the beginning of March there was a spike in the number of searches by people who wanted advice on how to work from home. At the end of March and during the beginning of April, most seem to have figured out and become accustomed to their new working habits as the number of searches started to drop by then. 

Research has suggested that working from home could also boost productivity for the employer. In addition, according to Global Workplace Analytics, employers can save nearly £9,000 a year for every employee who works remotely half the time.

It is also worth noting that the average daily commute time in the UK is currently 59 minutes. This means that people working from home will save almost five hours each week that they would normally spend travelling. As well as being good news for employees, some of this extra time may be spent working, therefore also benefiting employers.

The simple fact is that a combination of social distancing, complex phasing stages and acquiring the necessary PPE for staff makes the logistics of opening an office seem like a massive burden of responsibility, not to mention a huge expense, for employers. 

Another advantage for the UK during the Coronavirus crisis is reduced emissions from workers not commuting. As an example, it is said that if people who are able to work at home do so for half the time, it could result in saving 54 million tonnes in greenhouse gases, which is equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road. This all makes a compelling case for businesses to continue working from home operations where possible.

However, it would be remiss to ignore any potential drawbacks of working from home. While it may seem like an attractive proposition, drawbacks have been identified, such as impacting on wellbeing and productivity.

19% of remote workers surveyed said that they struggle with loneliness and 62% would like employers to provide better technology that helps them to easily communicate with their colleagues.

This is why it is vital that employers provide all of the software and support to ensure that employees can successfully work from home without feeling excluded, isolated or unable to carry out day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. 

In fact, some companies are already paying for remote mental health services and online learning sites for employees. In some cases, productivity has accelerated as it offers employees an outlet to turn their hands to new skills, think differently about problem solving, share ideas and find solutions.

Companies which have invested in cloud-based software, remote online tools, sufficient bandwidth and conferencing apps such as Zoom and Skype should find that productivity is not too severely impacted and their workers will be able to carry on as they would ordinarily at home.  

The setting up of virtual call centres has in particular proven that, with the right tools and technology, working from home can lead to strong results and a “business as usual” stance, all while providing staff members with an invigorated new way of working.

If you would like to discuss how the current climate has changed your working practices, please contact the MERJE team by emailing info@merje.com