Is the end in sight? Let’s hope so. There are some positive signs, with a timeline of when we can work towards certain steps (that first pint in a pub is going to taste very sweet!) and I was even able to buy advance tickets to sporting events last week.
Which means it’s time for employers to consider their policy of working from home, if they have not already done so. Many have indicated to me that they may be continuing this to some extent- time will tell how widespread this is, and it will probably vary across different industry sectors (for example some computing related roles may be ideally suited). There has even been talk that for some employers there could be a temptation to continue home working to save money on office space.
My feeling is that a hybrid model will be most common, where staff are in the office most of the time, but able to work from home from time to time – almost as an employee benefit in many ways. But even with this, its important to make sure that quality of work is not affected.
BC (before Covid) a bit of momentum was building from many who wanted to work from home; a lot of employers were resistant, partly due to wanting staff to be in the office, but also because working from home required a special kind of organisation and discipline (see here for my thoughts on that).
By necessity it was brought in; but without the luxury of time to plan, there is no doubt that steps were skipped in many cases.
Areas such as occupational health, insurance, equipment, and cyber security were not always addressed properly, at least initially. Makeshift offices were set up in corridors, bedrooms, and on dining tables. Personal WiFi, laptops, and phones were used in many cases.
It’s almost been a kind of Dunkirk spirit to make sure that things carried on; businesses and staff showed remarkable adaptability and resilience, and business carried on in many ways.
But it’s not all gone smoothly: in many cases there has naturally been a drop in service levels to some extent, for example, some businesses are not transferring calls to those who are home-working, others have blamed errors on the situation, and it’s not easy to assess the effect on productivity. Which is all understandable, it’s been a difficult time for all, but if working from home continues going forward businesses now need to make sure that quality does not suffer: more robust systems need to be put in place.
For more experienced members of staff, working from home has been great in many ways: spending more time with family, savings on travel costs, less hassle receiving deliveries. Even so, many are keen to return to the office; but others will not find it easy to return after so long working from home, there could even be some reluctance, and this will need to be managed effectively.
In terms of graduates and other younger members of staff, the novelty of working from home is perhaps not as relevant, and I would say that most I speak with are eager to get back into offices to mix with others. It’s a lot easier to learn a new job in the office, with the support of more experienced colleagues; both in terms of learning and development, but also just picking things up from being around them. The stimulation of being in an office with others also helps to develop social skills. And in many cases younger staff have not had a decent location or equipment to set up and work from home, particularly those from a lower socio-economic background.
There is also the risk that working from home can lead to some team-members feeling isolated- they may not feel comfortable saying if they have a problem, and of course it’s not as easy to pick up on body language if only speaking online and on limited occasions. If working from home continues as more than just the odd day, it will still be important to set regular communication and events to make sure that people are not isolated, for example some of my clients are planning regular team lunches or bonding days, when this is allowed.
So, we have got some who can’t wait to get back to the office, and others who are perhaps reluctant to return- it will be interesting to see how this develops.