The thick of it

The UK is now used to working life without alarm clocks and weary early morning commuting, even if the cost is back-to-back Zoom conferences, no more whispered ad-hoc decision-making in corridors between meetings, and a rapid intrusion of workplace technology into the family space.

After being forced into remote employee home-working by the Covid-19 emergency, many employers are now pausing to review how far they can trust staff who cannot be seen, while also trying to make sure that crucial productivity and creativity levels are not allowed to tail off.

No one-size-fits-all

There is no single answer. However, there is a range of practical remote-working options that pivot on what work is involved, plus individual employee personalities and circumstances.

Other factors can include a good home-work environment, company communication support and management – which can be a two-way flow – and, in many cases, an intense learning curve.

Different people

Success also depends on the skills and strengths of people involved. Many relish the chance to prove themselves as independent, creative self-starters and problem-solvers on their own terms. Others rely more heavily on face-to-face meetings and associated body language.

The key message from a number of studies carried out since March 2020 is that if recent lockdown home-working has caused problems, it is usually because of bad practices that can be improved.

Agile home-working

As part of the UK’s “yo-yo” return to conventional urban or city offices, many companies are now looking at half-way house compromises where staff spend at least one day a week with colleagues in “the office” sheltered by Perspex screens, automated doors and single/dual occupancy lifts.

However, the balance between a full office return and regular waves of lockdown with strict social distancing is edging more people towards flexible and responsive remote-working solutions.

No fun at all

But home-working can create problems of its own!

Two people trying to work productively in a one-bedroomed flat is not unusual. Bad seating can lead to bad backs after hours spent hunched over lap-tops balanced in small tables, or using the floor as a makeshift office because there is no room for ergonomically-designed chairs and full-sized screens.

Business confidentiality can be a further problem; installing business-scale broadband frequently calls for permission from cooperative landlords.

Far from being a travel-free treat that saves 1.5 hours of commuting time daily, the invasion of modern digital technology leads to being “zoomed-out”, plus serious grievances that “We’re just sleeping in the office now!”

Remote-working is an ambition

Even so, 98% of people surveyed see remote working as a key part of their future careers.

But many employees still rely on pre-existing face-to-face work relationships, and find it difficult to reach out to other people in 250+ employee companies. This can turn feelings of “team” into mere task lists. Conversely, many remote workers feel they must try harder for fear of being seen to slack.

Employers are encouraged to generate a culture that fosters remote kinship and visibility at a time when staff are being asking to become largely self-sufficient – strange new territory!

Why home can be best

More positively, one study concluded that a four-day-at-home week can raise productivity by some 13% – 4% because staff have fewer distractions and 9% as a result of working more minutes per shift, taking shorter lunch breaks, fewer sick day, and not commuting.

However, the study also came with caveats that can make a well-designed garden office or office pod an ideal dedicated working environment.

The caveats included: – having no children; a dedicated work room which is not a bedroom; quality broadband connections; and company-provided IT equipment. Looser working hours and patterns also allowed staff to pick their own peak performance times.

Finding the right balance

Encouragingly, more employees are now meeting up in video lunchtime chats. Work-home lines are becoming increasingly blurred, often for the better. One team recorded a 52% increase in online chats between colleagues from 6pm to 10pm.

Some companies, however, are keen to reinforce work-life boundaries; UN data shows that 41% of remote workers experience high stress levels compared to 25% of office staff. Frequent one-to-one management/staff chats can remove bottlenecks and draw a firm line under the working day.

Even more importantly, employees must know that they do not have to be available all the time!

Because an email happens to be in your inbox does not mean that it has to be answered urgently.

UrSpace September 2020

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