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Friday, 03 July 2020 15:33

Hidden Homeworking Issues

The Government advice for workers during the Covid crisis remains that we should continue to work from home wherever possible. We know from our own clients that this is largely being adhered to and YouGov statistics recorded in May show that 38% of the UK workforce were working from home; steeply up from the pre-Covid level of just 7%.

This level of homeworking has prompted much discussion regarding people’s mental health; and rightly so. YouGov recorded increased feelings of isolation amongst all groups in its study, especially males living alone and those in the 18-30 age bracket. Furthermore, 20% of respondents admitted that their mental health had worsened since working from home during the crisis.

Whilst we should all take note of what this means in regard to our duty of care as employers, there is a whole raft of other issues that working from home raises which businesses mustn’t overlook and should probably be taking some sort of action over; especially as homeworking may continue indefinitely for many.

The pandemic has forced homeworking upon us and businesses have done exceptionally well to adapt so quickly, but there are challenges. Simply having an appropriate place to work from can be a huge problem for some and childcare is often cited as a disrupter to efficient working. Not everyone has access to good IT equipment or efficient broadband, both of which may come at the expense of the employee.

And let’s remember that homeworking simply won’t suit everybody. After all, it’s not what most of us signed up to. Some people are simply not cut out for it and rely on their routine of physically going to work and being in the office environment to stimulate their activity.

Perhaps some of the questions a business should be asking right now are what does the organisation need to deliver in the next 12-24 months and what is the most effective and efficient way to enable it to remain competitive in the marketplace. Then it should ask “is homeworking working to deliver this?”. The answer may vary greatly across different industries but there should be some comparability of productivity between how things are now and how they were. Has output increased, decreased, or remained the same; and is that change universal or only applicable to some individuals?

We know that many businesses are seeing at least equivalent, and in some cases, improved productivity since employees started working from home. Advancements in IT and infrastructure have helped to make this possible. For example, call-centres can now operate with a geographically fragmented workforce. But of course, we can only truly compare and hold employees to account if they had targets and objectives previously. If managers struggled or failed to supervise their staff effectively whilst they were at work, managing remotely will be a huge ask.

Cost savings from the departure of rent, rates, heating, lighting and as one person admitted this week, biscuits, will be a significant influence to preserve the status quo for some organisations. But we mustn’t let the longer-term effects of maintaining a work-from-home workforce be obscured by a short-term improvement on the balance sheet.

There are some intangible advantages to having a team in the same workspace. The creativity and problem solving that can be sparked from an impromptu meeting at the water cooler for example. Or the sharing of thoughts and ideas that seems to happen by osmosis across an open plan office. For homeworkers, every meeting must be scheduled so that we’re in front of our screens at a prescribed time to discuss a prescribed agenda, often stifling spontaneity.

One of the reasons some of us may be a seeing an increase in productivity is because the commute to work no longer exists. Employees can be at their desk, or kitchen table, earlier and potentially fresher each morning if they’ve not had to sit in traffic or endure an uncomfortable journey on public transport.

This then leads us to the issue of time management. If homeworking means staff are achieving their tasks more efficiently, should we allow them to finish earlier? And how will that endure if they are expected to attend online meetings late in the day, or indeed in the office? Is there an expectation that homeworking means flexible working, and will homeworkers expect to choose their own hours?

The introduction of a formal homeworking policy is probably overdue for quite a lot of employers. Until now, they have probably got away with some spoken instruction and a ‘play it by ear’ approach. As homeworking becomes more of the norm however, some proper ground rules should be established before bad habits and unrealistic expectations become ingrained.

We’ve provided more questions than answers here and establishing best practice may still be some way in the future, but it’s important that we start the conversation now so that we are ahead of the curve as the future pans out. Our espresso session on Wednesday 8th July will discuss the issues we’ve raised here and more. Book you place at www.hrchampions.co.uk/espresso

For discussion and advice about your own scenario, we’re available on 01452 331331 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Read 144 times Last modified on Friday, 03 July 2020 15:38

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