While coronavirus has changed many aspects of our lives, working from home has been among the most striking. It has tilted our work-life balance, reshaping our professional and personal perceptions about how we both live and work-at-home.
This year, working from home has been a novel experience for many people, not least for employers who didn’t initially believe that remote workers could be productive employees. But even those employers who were initially sceptical about having a home-based workforce, have increasingly seen the benefits of having staff working from home.
So, post-COVID-19, will it be business as usual, or business in a next normal, with employees continuing to work from home?
There’s no doubt that homeworking has been gaining in popularity for some time now, driven by technologies that have allowed it to happen safely and securely.
For example last year, before the pandemic, the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) referred to flexible working as “the new normal” – and that 94% of UK organisations already offered some form of flexible working. Also last year, the growth of people working from home was underlined by a BBC analysis that said there had been a 74% jump in the number of people working from home between 2008 and 2018.
Now, statistics released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics says that 49.2% of adults in employment are working from home. Before the pandemic, it was 6%.
The main concern that some employers had about homeworking employees not being as productive has been laid to rest. Indeed, the opposite is true, with higher productivity and morale, according to an OddsMonkey report.
Other studies suggest that happiness, motivation and a sense of freedom are generally stronger among remote workers.
It’s tempting to think that when COVID-19 is consigned to history, we will somehow go back to the future – back to the costly and time-wasting daily commute, and back to our offices. But it’s not going to happen. A report published by BBC online suggests that nine in 10 workers who have worked from home during lockdown would like to continue to do so in some form.
The joint report, The Understanding Society Covid-19 Study, from Cardiff and Southampton universities, also confirmed that the majority of people working from home remain as productive, if not more so. It’s why initiatives such as National Work Life Week are so important, because organisations of all sizes need to look to a different kind of long-term future, for themselves and their employees.