• Chris Mellor-Dolman

Home or Away?

Forget Brexit. There’s a new issue dividing the country. It’s called ‘working from home’.

Lockdown resulted in half of the employed population in the UK working from home. But how is it perceived by those of us who are doing it or have done it? Well, it may come as no surprise that just like the love/hate relationship with Marmite it’s split right down the middle.

Of course, working from home is not a new concept. It’s long been a way of life for the many who choose to be self-employed or work on a freelance basis. But there are many facets to it. For instance, what about the legal aspect: is home working actually lawful? It’s little known that many rental rules, mortgage agreements and house deeds prohibit working from home. How many of us have actually considered it?

Some have become so enthralled by home working that they’ve vowed to get new jobs if current employers don’t allow it to continue. Others can’t wait to get back to their place of work.

Here we outline both sides of the discussion…

what’s to love What do people like about home working? Its supporters are united on several fronts:

1. no commute: who’s really going to miss the 50-mile round trip every day? When wasting personal time sat in traffic whilst polluting the environment wasn’t a choice before Covid-19, we had little cause to complain. However, now we’ve experienced working from home as an alternative. Suddenly we’ve realised that the time is ours to reclaim and enjoy as our own. When the day’s work is done we can do with it what we wish. Add fuel and parking expenses into the mix, most of which is payable from our own pocket, and the daily grind and cost of the round-trip loses its appeal further still.

2. everything to hand: many report that being able to do everything at home that they were doing in the workplace. From accessing resources to conducting meetings online, cloud-based technology has come into its own to support us remotely.

3. more time with family: forced remote working has inevitably resulted in us spending much more time with our families. For most (but not all!), this is a good thing. Most have had time to reflect and realised what really matters to us. The realisation that too many hours are spent away from the family home may have become all too apparent and needs addressing. Looking wider, new opportunities have arisen to communicate more with friends – all be it online, but again, it will dawn on the majority that we haven’t done enough of this as we’ve raced about our busy lives.

4. lifestyle fit: for those with more demanding commitments at home, ranging from having a relative with an on-going illness to looking after young dependants, being home-based is a much better way of working. Having the flexibility to adapt your day around home and work needs is a welcome change to the working life routine that those with dependants hope will become a permanent thing.

5. more productive: in the absence of commuting, excessive meetings and repeated interruptions, many of us are adamant that we’re more productive than ever working at home. We work in solid chunks of time, we have time to think, and we’re much more organised.

6. employer savings: not having to provide premises or support facilities for the workforce is a huge boon for companies. The cost savings go straight to the bottom line, improving profitability, which in turn helps businesses to secure their future right now. As we ease out of Lockdown measures, remote working could be a key factor in determining the difference between survival and closure.

7. fitter and more skilled: with more time to call our own many of us have taken the opportunity to both increase our physical activity and invest in our personal development. Gym closures have driven the ‘already fit’ to find alternative ways of keeping fit, and those previously shy to exercise have suddenly discovered a new lease of life. Cycling, running and online classes have been the big hits.

Self-development has also been the order of the day. From creative pursuits such as cooking and painting to educational development like professional courses we have used Lockdown time wisely and embraced the opportunity to learn afresh or rediscover a useful skill. What’s widely known and accepted is that both physical activity and personal application have been vitally responsible for maintaining our mental well-being during this challenging time.

what’s to hate For every person who loves working from home there’s one on the opposite side who loathes it. Here’s why…

1. too many distractions: some of us just can’t trust ourselves. We’re easily distracted by the constant pull of TV-on-demand, video gaming and social media, and who wouldn’t opt for lazy starts to the day with long lie-ins?! Then there are domestic chores that need to be tended to and friends to catch up with. For those who meander between the Utopia of doing what the hell you like when you like, versus putting in the work hours when we’re supposed, it can be all too much. A home working life without self-discipline is inevitably a slippery slope.

2. missing people: many simply miss being around other people. Whether it’s sat alongside colleagues or meeting face-to-face we’re a social species that seeks regular contact and interaction. Without real people to collaborate with some are just plain lost. At its worst the impact on mental health can be significant, especially for those who live alone. The full effects of Lockdown on the nation’s mental health are starting to become apparent, and may have a lasting impact.

3. home demands: a key topic of debate during the pandemic crisis has been home schooling. In reality the local school usually handles the daytime childcare very nicely thank you. Suddenly, you’re all locked down as one big, happy family and you’re tasked with tackling the demands of your own job whilst stepping up to become a full-time teacher across every subject, often for several children. This is a balancing act of the highest proportions: a chock-full school timetable combined with a packed day’s work – and throw in the domestic chores for good measure too… it’s not easy.

4. working more hours: there are those in the population who are just plain workaholics. No matter whether it’s at home or in the workplace they will work tirelessly regardless. Those aside, home working during Lockdown has presented a new phenomenon. Because it’s a new way of working some feel pressured to work longer hours. There are many assumptions around this, but predominantly it’s driven by a need to prove oneself away from the physical environment where it’s easier to demonstrate your effectiveness to peers and line managers. Sending emails in the dead of night is a classic example, stating “Hello everyone. I’m still here working hard at silly o’clock. I’m so dedicated aren’t I!”.

5. can’t be trusted: Big Brother syndrome reigns supreme here. Some in management positions just don’t trust their staff. Their held belief is that without a constant watchful eye and strong arm tactics then the propensity to shirk increases. Of course, this old school approach to management is frowned upon in principle by the majority of us who base our working relationships on trust, integrity and collaboration. However, it still exists, and the knock-on effect has been compounded for many long-suffering employees during Lockdown.

6. some have to go to work: for those working in shops, warehouses and other bespoke premises they have no choice but to go to a place of work. This can create resentment against those that do have the option to work from home as it’s perceived to be unfair.

7. hard to communicate: linked to the first point about contact, many find connecting with others remotely very difficult. From the absence of body language to only contacting colleagues for formal exchanges – as opposed to socialising more casually at after-work get-togethers for instance, a void can open up that makes everybody in the business more distanced relationship-wise. The connectivity and companionship created from being in close proximity to one another can be lost very quickly.

One in ten also report having no contact at all with their line manager since Lockdown. The counter argument is that this has nothing to do with remote working, and everything to do with poor communication within some businesses full stop. Some things never change.

The points outlined above are just a small selection of the joys and pains of home working. Although painted as a black & white case, it’s really not so clear cut. In reality most people pick out a mixture of elements from the two sides of the argument.

As Lockdown measures ease, how do we move forward for the benefit of the majority? Reasonably, employers and employees need to find common ground and strike a balance that works best for all, with some workplace interaction combined with a healthy dose of home working.

What’s clear right now is that the debate is far from concluded, but what we should all hope for is a healthier way of working that ensures we all enjoy rewarding jobs with employers that have consideration for our well-being and the demands of our busy lives outside of work too. Happier, more fulfilled employees will inevitably be more productive and creative. Win-win.

We live in hope...

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