Workplace vs. Home Working – What’s Right For Your Business?

The debate around the pros and cons of working from home vs. working in the office is being increasingly discussed in the news, as the government tries to encourage the public to start living with Covid-19. This article looks more closely at the pros and cons of office vs. home working and gives some tips on how businesses can implement home, work and hybrid working most effectively.

The Office vs Home Working In the News

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was recently reported as saying “working from home doesn’t work.” He went onto say that “my experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.” The PM also believes that “full workplaces will lift productivity and revive town and city centres.”

As far back as January 2022 the government sent out a press release saying “Civil servants to lead the way in returning to offices”. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay tasked departments across government with ensuring their offices returned quickly to full occupancy following the lifting of work from home restrictions in England, saying “Now we are learning to live with COVID and have lifted Plan B measures, we need to move away from a reliance on video meetings and get back to the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working. I’m grateful to the Civil Service for managing the challenges of the last two years. It is important that we now see the maximum use of our office space being made from next week, as we build a strong recovery after the disruption of the pandemic.” However, this did not happen, and many civil servants continued to work from home. In what is seen as an effort to crack down on officials working from home the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency left notes on ‘absent’ staff’s desks saying “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. Wish every good wish.”

On BBC Question Time, the question was raised again. An audience member asked “Is increased working from home good for society?” The panels answers were varied and included:

  • People are social beings – we benefit from being together in the workplace.
  • Hybrid working can be beneficial for workers who have families.
  • Some people have long commutes (2+ hrs) into their workplace which aren’t always productive and could be better spent working rather than travelling.
  • Young workers need to learn from mentors which can be more readily done in the workplace. Upskilling and retraining may also be impacted if working from home.
  • Mental health can suffer if we’re isolated at home because social interaction is important.
  • Workers may not feel part of their organisations if they only work from home.
  • Working from home can be just as productive as working from the office.
  • Workers can be further away from their workplace if working remotely so businesses can recruit more widely.

So, what is the answer to home working or office working – what’s right for your business? Below we look at the pros and cons of working from home vs. working in the office

Disadvantages

Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some jobs aren’t suited to home working but even when they are some people may prefer the routine and structure of working in the office. It maybe difficult to find a dedicated workspace at home with the appropriate furniture, good Wi-Fi etc. Home workers may find it harder to remain focused when working at home, depending on the distractions. They may also miss the interaction of work colleagues or being able to access their manager or boss or other team members when required. Some workers prefer face to face meetings and remote, online meetings may prove difficult for them to achieve their work goals.

Feelings of isolation. Where staff are working alone at home, they may feel isolated or disconnected from other members of staff and work in general. The very nature of home working can lead to loneliness.

Impact on mental health. When staff used to working in the office, surrounded by other people, and they start working from home where they’re alone, and where it maybe quieter it can have a negative impact on mental health. A lack of structure e.g., start and stop times, a lack of normal routine, less or no communication with other members of staff can also cause issues.

Impact on staff morale. Given that staff can feel isolated and lonely when working from home it can lead to a decrease in staff morale. Team working can also be impacted as it maybe harder to get everyone together online at the same time where e.g. there are issues with the quality of Wi-Fi signal and technology.

Working longer hours. Working at home can blur the boundary between home and work life balance resulting in staff working longer hours. There’s always the risk that staff may find it difficult to switch off from work even outside “normal working hours” as their computer is always at hand and easy to access. Ultimately this can lead additional stress and eventually burnout.

Distractions. It can sometimes be hard when working from home when there are multiple distractions. Family can be a major distraction, especially when younger children are at home and who may find it hard to understand that you’re at home but unavailable. Other distractions like TV, mobile phone, kitchen, noise from other homes etc. can also be a problem if you aren’t used to home working. Home working can require more discipline to stay focused and avoid distractions.

Monitoring work performance. Home working can make it difficult to monitor staff performance. Some staff will be happy to be monitored, others will find it intrusive. Finding a way to measure performance is obviously important but needs to be handled sensitively.

Development of staff. It maybe more difficult when it comes to training, upskilling or mentoring staff when they are working at home. There are some aspects of training that have to be done in person or where training online may present issues. For this hybrid working may prove to be a solution which allows staff to work at home and come into the office when training or mentoring is required.

Ensuring security. Keeping informationsecure can be more difficult at home unless the risks are managed appropriately. This includes encrypted devices, keeping devices up to date, using secure Wi-Fi, implementing software to ensure viruses and malware are detected and blocked; safe, secure online software that allows communication and collaboration and training of staff to identify scams and email phishing. It’s also important to have access control in place if staff need to access secure business servers.

Technology and equipment. Having good Wi-Fi access and the right technology including software and devices is vital to ensuring staff can be productive at home. If their Wi-Fi signal is slow and they need to go online this will impact the speed at which they can work and they are likely to become frustrated and distracted if they can’t work as quickly as need to or would like.

Health, safety and well-being considerations. Employers are responsible for employee health, safety and wellbeing when they are in the workplace and when they work from home. This requires employers to conduct a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment of their employees’ working environment as well as ensuring that the business has insurance to cover employees working from home.

Advantages

Less time travelling. If staff are working from home, they’re likely to spend less time travelling. The time spent travelling could be spent working – or allowing staff to stop earlier if they start earlier.

More flexibility. Working from home or a hybrid mix of home and office working can provide an additional degree of flexibility. Working hours could be more flexible. Start and stop times could be adapted towards family life potentially allowing for a better work life balance.

Keeping current staff. Many staff have discovered they like the ability to work from home. Some even find that they can be as, if not more, productive when working from home. Given this some workers are looking to extend or make home working a permanent choice and are looking for employers who offer this as an option.

Attracting new staff. We know from reports that one of the options staff who are looking for a new job are interested in is whether home working is available to them. Many workers see this as a positive and will gravitate towards a company which allows their staff to work flexibly.

Financial benefits. Not having to commute to work 5 days a week can result in transport or petrol savings. Workers can also claim tax relief for household costs such as gas and electricity, metered water and business phone calls, including internet access. For some businesses less office space is required as more staff work from home (however a caveat to this would be the need to change the layout of the office to more hot desks and team working spaces with technology which allows for video conferencing with staff working from home).

Hybrid or Home Working For Your Business

The decision as to whether you should enable your staff to work from home permanently or on a part time basis is for individual businesses to decide and will depend on whether you think it will work for you and your staff.  If you’ve decided that enabling hybrid or home working is right for your business, then you’ll need to look at your current office setup.

Given that some workers will be onsite and other will be working remotely a few factors require careful consideration. These factors are:

  • Guaranteeing there is enough office space for all office staff when they want to come into work and for those staff who permanently work in the office. This can be achieved through a booking system which allows staff to book a desk and know that it will be available to them when they come to work.
  • The need to ensure good communication facilities and technology are available to enable staff to continue to communicate effectively no matter their location.
  • Ensuring all staff can access the resources and equipment they need to be able to do their jobs.
  • Putting in place support staff to combat any feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Ensuring staff safety, health and well-being are addressed and that the appropriate risk assessments are carried out.

When it comes to designing your office space to allow for hybrid working you will need your office to be more agile and flexible in the way it works. This may mean implementing flexibility in the office layout including having demountable or folding partitions, multipurpose furniture and more inventive “meeting spaces” e.g., pods or booths as well as more social spaces for teams and remote workers to “get together” in work or remotely when required. You should consider:

  • Spaces for individual working either fixed or hot desking.
  • Areas for collaboration for your teams, preferably away from individual workstations.
  • Meeting rooms for formal meetings equipped with audio visual equipment and technology to allow for workers to attend meetings while at work or at home.
  • Quiet spaces, pods or booths where people can go, to work away from the office noise or to do private work.
  • Break out areas to allow staff to move away from their desks to take a break or enjoy a few minutes downtime.
  • Social spaces where individuals or groups can come together to socialise, take some downtime or even brainstorm or meet more informally.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have over 30 years experience in office design, refurbishments and fit outs. When it comes to hybrid working layouts, we understand how to get the best out of your Kent or London office space. We can advise you on office layout, hot-desking, office pods, meeting rooms, break out areas, audio and visual technology and noise reduction. You can contact us on 0333 207 0339 or via our contact page today for a free on-site consultation.


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