Back to work but not the office

Is home working here to stay?

Despite the unforeseen and unwanted lockdown circumstances in which it arrived, many reckoned working from home was, to begin with, quite pleasant; a not unwelcome change from the day-to-day, year-to-year routine, a relief from the daily grind of commuting, and the bonus of more time to spend with the family. But then, as weeks turned to months and the novelty wore off, some began to find the new way tough going.

Being confined to a single room for the entire working day, spending virtually all those “at work” hours staring at a computer screen with one online meeting following another, no work-day “down time” – those coffee and lunch breaks with the accompanying potential for relaxation and social chatter or the opportunity to pop out to the shops for half-an-hour. Even all those extra hours with the nearest and dearest became for some just a little too much of a good thing. But that was by no means a universal view.

Many thousands have found the new way of working a better, healthier and less stressful way, whilst others if given the choice would opt for a flexible combination of the two – a part-home, part-office way of working. As restrictions ease, and after more than a year of locked, unused and unoccupied offices, companies and organisations are already investigating moving to smaller spaces or to giving up offices altogether. For some companies it’s too late, numerous businesses having closed their doors for the final time. But the survivors battle on, prudently cutting costs wherever possible.

Major organisations such as Aviva, HSBC and the Lloyds banking group are pursuing or predicting changed operating procedures with fewer offices in the near future. Other organisations such as the Goldman Sachs Group are less keen on a changed way. The group’s chief executive officer, David Solomon, recently described remote work as “an aberration”, which the group would “correct as quickly as possible”.

Some businesses though are bringing in specialists to talk to staff about the changes a flexible system will bring, reasoning that what works for a forty-something with a family may not be as suitable for or as popular with a single worker in their twenties, living alone.

Inevitably, change is coming; in work, as in almost every area of twenty-first century life, nothing will ever again be quite the same.

What our surveys show

Not everyone currently in work is certain they will still have a job post-pandemic, but of those who do, only 19% said they would prefer to work completely from home once restrictions are lifted. The highest percentage of those surveyed, 39%, said they would prefer working both from home and partially from home. And 38% said that post-pandemic they want to operate completely from their place of work. But when asked for the reasons for this, 82% said that their work couldn’t be done from home.

We limited our second question to those who replied they wanted to work at least partially from home. When we asked for the main reason why they prefer this option, many answers were given, but three stood out. The highest number, 29%, said it was better for their mental health and wellbeing. A further 27% said it would mean less commuting and more time with the family, and 21% answered that it was cheaper to work from home and would save them money. The next most significant reason given, at 16%, was that the home working option fitted better with childcare or other caring responsibilities.



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