“The world of work will need to be completely reassessed in the eventual aftermath of the pandemic, with much more flexible workforces, on-demand workdays and big deals increasingly being conducted virtually… It is not just the physical office and the location of the staff that’s up for debate, but also the established ideas about the form of the working day itself.”
According to Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack
This year I entered my eighth year of self-employment. I remember the transition from the traditional structured hours in a professional setting and stepping into a world where I set the rules. It was up to me where I chose to sit in the house, dining room table, bed, sofa or desk, although my hours were set around the school run, I would often work on an evening and weekends. As the saying goes “why work 40 hours a week for your boss, when you can work 80 hours for yourself”, I took this to the extreme! I found it so hard to have a clear divide between my home life and work as it was taking place in the same location, I was trying to relax on the same sofa that I had been nursing my laptop on all day. The sight of my work bag would trigger tasks in my mind that I had forgot to do or issues that hadn’t been concluded. And then came the guilt that working was often easier than parenting!
Enterprise agencies should have signed people up to a hard-hitting compulsory course before they took that leap into self-employment, it should have prepared me for that brutal journey, warts, and all. In fact, I might just create one myself and roll it out to budding entrepreneurs! Anyway, it was my decision to follow this lifestyle, I could have walked away at any point and went back into employment, but the truth is I am now “Proudly Unemployable” (in the words of my business partner). I thrive on the flexibility, unpredictability, and the fact that no two days are ever the same.
But for millions of people across the world, this chaotic working environment and constant juggling work, home and often caring responsibilities, not to mention home-schooling during working hours was not what they signed up for. The pandemic increased our homeworking community on the 23 March 2020 when Boris Johnson told the country that “people ‘must’ stay at home”. They didn’t have the luxury of a gradual transition, it was immediate, it was stressful, it was non-negotiable. Although we are surrounded by our veteran Coworkers at Colleagues on Tap, a coworking company I run, for whom this working pattern is completely normal, a lot of our HR clients have struggled with this shift. Some people just don’t have the physical space in the house to work from and have to be creative in their options, ironing boards and upturned washing baskets have become an adequate solution. However, none of us expected we would still be in this situation almost a year on.
CEO’s and Directors who squirmed at the mere suggestion of a flexible working arrangement pre-Covid are now revelling in the cost savings of office space and travel budgets. This all seems positive on paper but are they really looking at the bigger picture and the long-term impact that working in isolation is having on their staff?
In our experience there are two extremes, there is the responsible company who regularly checks in on their staff, arranges meaningful meetings and trusts their team members to get on with their work, providing flexible working hours that suits their home-life situation. Then there is the other camp, who continues to micro-manage, monitors in-activity on laptops, and doesn’t have any consideration about personal circumstances when working from home. Unfortunately, the repercussions of the latter management approach will be become more apparent when sickness rates start to rise or there is an increase in turnover once their staff start to gain confidence in the job market and move on to pastures new.
Although each person has their own story about how lockdown and the pandemic has affected them the true aftermath is yet to be uncovered. Employers need to consider the impact of their decisions on the mental health of the staff, so we don’t add to the casualties of this pandemic.
There is so much to take into account when looking at the future of the workplace:
- Location – is an office actually required? Can the role be carried out from home? Can the lease be ended on the office building? What is the contract termination clause? Can a smaller office be rented or a shared office space?
- Technology – do the staff have access to the required systems or equipment? Can assistance be provided remotely if there are any technical issues? Is this available by inhouse staff or will it have to be outsourced?
- Working hours – does the job need to be carried out during pre-Covid working hours or is there flexibility? How can staff be monitored (legally) to make sure they are actually doing their work and support those who are doing too much?
- Headcount – does there need to be an increase in the number of staff to meet client demands or do costs need to cut through staff redundancies?
It can be concluded that working from home will be the norm for at least the next 12 months, but I do think that the traditional office set up has changed forever and smaller satellite offices will be set up in their place to maintain contact some with employees. It is my hope that there will be a shift in the focus of team management to include regular conversations about workload, isolation and moral. However, the effectiveness of this provision will be dependent on the company, the experience and training of the management team and if they see the benefit.
Echoing the words of Stewart Butterfield:
“the world of work will need to be completely reassessed”.
If you’re struggling working from home, why not take a look at our Homeworking Guide.