working from home productivity benefits and pitfalls

Is Working from Home The Future After Covid-19?

Since the Coronavirus outbreak reached UK soil, there has been a lot of talk about how the lockdown experience could change the way we work and socially behave for good. There is no doubt that our ability to work from home is solely thanks to technology. Working from home for most office staff, would simply not be possible if it weren’t for cloud-based servers, laptops, high speed internet, 5G, secure file sharing and HD video conference calls.

But, is working from home going to be the future after Covid-19 or is it an idealistic prediction for employees and firms to reduce their overheads and carbon footprint? We’ve studied the stats, looked at surveys and gathered professional opinions to create a pros and cons guide for businesses on the benefits and pitfalls of home working. It will be up to you decide if remote working is suited to your business or not.

The Pros – What Are The Benefits of Working From Home?

The 2019 Buffer study looked at the benefits and struggles of working from home, it was noted that 99% of us would like to work remotely, for at least some of the time, during the rest of our careers. The Covid-19 lockdown is certainly a good opportunity for office-based staff and businesses to trial working from home before committing to transforming the way they work for good.

Here, we’ve developed some of the benefits to working from home for employees and businesses:

Improved Response

Increased flexible working arrangements could improve response times for enquiries. Flexible and staggered working hours or shifts patterns are easier for home workers, who can start earlier or finish later to satisfy client needs. This could be particularly helpful for businesses that offer a 24/7 customer service or instant online messaging.

Access to a Larger Talent Pool

Increased access to a larger talent pool can also be a result of flexible working arrangements and home working. You may find your organisation can attract employees from further afield and open more opportunities in different areas. You may also attract working parents and those with disabilities that have a wealth of knowledge and expertise within your field but are unable to fulfil traditional working hours and contracts.

Improved Productivity

FlexiJobs “Super-Survey” revealed that 65% of the 7,300 people surveyed believed they would be more productive working from home – with less distractions and interruptions from fellow colleagues being the most appealing benefits. Furthermore, a Chinese experiment on remote working, showed a 13% increase in productivity with 9% increase in hours worked.

Improved Health and Wellbeing

Millennial employees have led the way in remote working, as a means to improve work/life balance. Consequently, between 2008 and 2018 there was an increase of 25% in employees working from home. Other appealing attributes to remote working include less office politics and bullying in the workplace. Consequently, reducing stress and anxiety and  improving health and wellbeing within an organisation.

Reduced Overheads and Carbon Footprint

Employers will no doubt still require an office space of some sort, but it could be smaller with less overheads. A shared workspace might be appropriate or a smaller commercial property.

With a smaller office, businesses can reduce their overall carbon footprint with reduced commuting and energy bills. The lower expenditure means the employer could increase salaries, or improve other areas of the business.

The Cons – What Are the Pitfalls to Working from Home?

Working from home does sound great doesn’t it? Having an entire workforce that can be self-sufficient within their own homes. But let’s be realistic, it isn’t for everyone and its important to be aware of the pitfalls. Here are few that we have identified on your behalf:

Distractions

Experienced home workers will tell you that it takes great discipline to work effectively from home and eventually you are likely to work more hours than necessary. They will also tell you that overcoming home distractions has to be one of their biggest challenges.

Distractions when working from home largely depends on the individual’s circumstances. There are obvious distractions that many workers will be experiencing during the Covid-19. For example, parents will be experiencing that having children at home during the Covud-19 outbreak is the one hardest distraction of all.

In an article entitled The productivity pitfalls of working from home in the age of COVID-19, even Stanford Economist Nicholas Bloom – an advocate for remote working – says “Working from home with your children is a productivity disaster. My 4-year-old regularly bursts into the room hoping to find me in a playful mood shouting “doodoo!” – her nickname for me – in the middle of conference calls.”

As well as children, the biggest distractions are noisy neighbours, family, friends, pets, media, phone calls and household chores.

Frustrating Tech

Technology too can be an issue. While technology is the saviour to working from home, it can also lend itself to many frustrations. Tech-related problems include:

  • Poor internet speed for accessing cloud-based servers, conference calls and online platforms
  • Phone signal
  • No access to essential software on personal devices
  • Not owning personal laptops, just tablets and smart phones
  • Lack of office facilities, such as printers (especially commercial printers), scanners, shredders
  • Having a place to work independently away from distractions
  • Laptop or home computer processing speed
  • Lack of IT support
  • Communicating technical problems

Reduced Morale, Team Spirit and Loneliness

For some, working from home can improve wellbeing and reduce stress, but there is a lot to be said to being part team. Having human interaction with colleagues develops an important team spirit, which is essential for a business. As a team, you support one another, overcome problems and learn from colleagues, which is all good for morale.

Being at home all the time, can be a lonely experience. In the Buffer Study, loneliness was the second biggest struggle for remote workers (17%). It’s therefore important to maintain contact with colleagues via email, phone and face to face meetings on a regular basis. Whether this is via video conference calls, or in real life after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Management of Junior Staff

In an organisation, not everyone has the ability to work independently. Senior members of staff have the knowledge and experience to work alone for long periods, but junior team members need consistent guidance and support.

When working from home, junior staff can feel embarrassed to pick up the phone or email numerous times a day to ask simple questions, meaning they can take longer to complete a task.

It’s important for junior staff working from home to feel supported. Although it can be an added strain, managers should regularly contact junior staff members so that they don’t feel alone and uncomfortable asking questions, especially during Covid-19.

Reduction in Creativity and Innovation

Stanford Economist, Nicholas Bloom says, “I fear this collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation,” he says. “The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”

Accessing Office Based Information

Having reduced access to files, archives, documents and general office-based information can be very frustrating for home workers. It can also be frustrating for office staff to have to provide this information upon request, as it takes them away from their own tasks. The way forward is to ensure all files are available digitally, or hard copies can be duplicated for remote workers to access from home.

Lack of Space and Boundaries

This is perhaps the most obvious of all the pitfall for home workers. Not everyone has space within their home to convert to a home office. You may think a kitchen table is all you need, which is fine as a temporary office solution during the Covid-19 outbreak, but in the long term, home workers need to be able to differentiate between home and work.

Boundaries need to be put in place. On one the hand productive home workers need to be able to walk away from their work.

In the Buffer Survey, 22% of remote workers struggled to unplug after work and 43% took between 2-3 weeks of vacation time, with an additional 20% selecting options between no vacation and one week per year.

On the other hand, less productive workers are distracted by home chores and family members and need a dedicated space to work.

Uncomfortable Furniture

Office furniture is ergonomically designed to optimise comfort when sitting for long periods.  Home dining chairs and sofas, even the bed are not cut out for long term home working.

During Covid-19, home workers can temporarily cope, but in the long-term, businesses need to consider if they will provide suitable furnishings for their workers.

Lack of Office Design

Office design is more than just interior design. There is science behind the layout, air quality, lighting and interior décor that improve productivity, brand awareness and communication among employees. Having a carefully designed office as a hub for employees to meet and work consistently, or in a hot desking capacity, is essential to continual personal development and business growth.

How to Be Productive Working from Home

As an office interior fit out company we regularly research and report on industry trends in our news pages. So, we have developed some insightful tips for remaining productive while working from home during Covid-19 and beyond.

Set-up an area in your home as a temporary workspace. Choose somewhere quiet, ventilated and where your seating position replicates as near to your usual set-up as possible, such as a table and chair or desk. Avoid the sofa, bed or floor. These options do not provide adequate support. Find a place where you can file your work without it being tided away or drawn on by members of your family. Make sure you have good internet connection, or you can plug directly into the Ethernet.

Get up and get ready for work every day. The initial appeal to wearing your PJs all day and working from the comfort of your bed should wear off and if not, it’s time to stop now! Get showered and dressed as you usually would before starting work. Have breakfast, make a drink and put the radio/music on ready to start.

Maintain a structure to your day by following your usual office routine. Start and finish when you normally would. Take breaks and carry out your reoccurring daily tasks as usual.

Up your communication with colleagues.  A good way to start the day is by speaking to the team via video conference call to discuss what needs to be done. A top tip for managers is to keep a rolling task list with clear assignments for each team member.

Prepare for the next day. Write a To Do list every evening before finishing to motivate you the next morning.

Tidy Up. Don’t leave cups and plates from the previous day unwashed and files sprawled out. Treat your home office like you would the ‘office office’. Put documents into a neat piles and file things away.

How Businesses Can Successfully Implement Working From Home?

Traditionally, homeworkers are more experienced member of staff, working parents, self-employed, freelancers and start-up businesses, but there is an increase in people now working partially from home and from the office.

This Is Money reports that almost a quarter of us work flexibly across different locations, which equates somewhere between 8 million and 4.2 million – the latter figure was reported by The Office for National Statistics in 2015.

Seasoned homeworkers have made allowances within their home to create a dedicated space to work. They have converted bedrooms, garages, installed desks in quiet corners or have had full-blown external offices installed within their gardens. For these people the Covid-19 lockdown poses little obstacles when it comes to productivity.

For businesses that are looking to implement flexible working arrangements in the future, our advice is to carefully review the pros and cons, and answer these questions:

  1. Will the savings outweigh the cost of having a permanent office?
  2. Are regular face to face meetings necessary for your business and how will you meet?
  3. Do you have non-office staff that need a base for storage and communication?
  4. Can all your staff be self sufficient working from home, or do they need support?
  5. Are your team equipped to work from home in terms of space, equipment, internet and technology?
  6. Will you need to invest in home office equipment, internet and furniture for your staff?
  7. Do you need to provide productivity or management training specifically for remote workers?
  8. How will you monitor productivity? Do you require an online reporting system or time sheets?
  9. How will you engage your team, encourage team spirit and develop bonds between team members?
  10. How will home working help grow and strengthen your business? Will there be potential for further employment opportunities?

Do You Still Need a Main Office?

The answer to this is YES, or certainly it is highly recommended. For businesses considering extending the working from home arrangement after Covid-19, a combination of home and office working might be the solution.

In this instance, implementing a hot desk facility will be essential. You will need a space for those who are unable to work from home all of the time, as well as for clientS and team meetings.

A carefully designed office interior will act as an extension of your brand. The office design and interior fit out team at JBH Refurbishments can help you to provide a professional hub where staff can immerse themselves within the business and access essential information and equipment when neccessary.

We can work with you to find a suitable property for your flexible office and develop an office interior design that works for you, your clients and home workers.

Contact our team for more information. We’re working from home right now, but taking calls!

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