• Helen Pritchett

Working From Home – Here to Stay or Temporary Fix?

Updated: May 6, 2021

When COVID-19 changed our lives back in March and, all of a sudden, office workers were based from home, no-one really knew how working from home would pan out. Would employers keep the faith with their teams to work just as hard from home as in the office? Could employees be as productive? Could relationships be maintained, business transactions completed, and pipeline developed? It was all a bit of a mystery and the proof was definitely going to be in the eating.

So, how is working from home working out? And will this become the new normal or will businesses revert to the traditional office-based system post-Coronavirus?

A recent study by Visier (in Personnel Today) showed that sixty-eight per cent of employees feel they are either more productive or equally productive from home – which is particularly significant given the unique challenges many workers face with handling childcare and home-schooling. 75% of respondents said they believe their manager trusts them to be productive from home, although 31% relayed that their employer had enforced new processes to check on people’s output. This check and balance shouldn’t be dismissed as employers being untrusting to suspicious, they are also adjusting to the new normal and it is acceptable for them to ensure work is being completed and objectives achieved.

Jan Schwarz, co-founder of people analytics company Visier, said: “It reflects positively on the UK’s HR industry that workers think companies who are new to remote working have handled a tough situation so well. These companies have had to transform themselves overnight and tackle major cultural and technological obstacles. They deserve real credit for their adaptability under real pressure.” Schwarz said Covid-19 had prompted the world’s “biggest home working experiment”, speeding up the future of work and will impact the way we think about work in the years to come.

Whilst the study was overwhelmingly positive about home working, and the rapid switch to adopting remote technologies (occasionally where very little infrastructure existed), it does raise suggestions that our new normal might not be here to stay. Many workers were not confident the experience will convince their employer to change their flexible work policies long-term. Almost half (47%) said their employer would ditch widespread remote working once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, instead reverting to their previous policies. Schwarz added “The worst thing that companies can do is ignore what they have learned about their workforce and how they like to operate. Companies who have resisted the new world of work until now have had their worlds turned upside down, but there is a real opportunity for HR leaders to help them continue their digital transformation.”

The Telegraph reported this week that the right to work from home might be enshrined in law post-coronavirus. The idea is in its infancy, however it seems Whitehall is deliberating whether Britons could be given a legal right to work from home to ensure that they are not forced to go back to workplaces after the lockdown. Officials at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department have raised the issue of enshrining a right to work from home in law as part of a suite of options to ease the lockdown. One source said the idea of a legal right was suggested by officials during talks about the Government's return to work package. It would mean staff would not feel compelled to go in to the office, while limiting the costs for employers who have to make their workplaces safe for social distancing.

In our experience of working from home, our staff are as productive, as focused and as efficient. CPB’s call room agents have been beavering away from home, making calls and actually talking to people. Yes, getting through and having conversations. No gatekeepers, few voicemails, and no daunting receptionists! Productivity on telemarketing campaigns is high and results even higher. From campaigns started since lockdown began, CPB agents have secured leads which have resulted in just over £1 million worth of pipeline for our valued customers.

Will working from home revert to being a perk or will it become a right?

As COVID-19 persists, employees are getting used to working from home and many are appreciating the benefits including avoiding stressful, time-consuming commutes; saving money on travel and food; managing work more efficiently; fewer interruptions; and seeing their children more often.

After the pandemic passes, it does seem likely there will be a cultural shift towards working from home as a norm and many employees will want to do this, at the very least for part of the week. But where do they stand legally, and will employers look so favourably?

In terms of technologies to support remote working, its all there if employers want it. Of course, there are certain job roles (including construction, manufacturing, health etc) that cannot work from home. But for those roles that can be fulfilled remotely, companies can purchase all the relevant technology to help this happen. Think Workspace and virtual desktop infrastructure from VMware, firewall security from Barracuda, VoIP calling from RingCentral, OneDrive from Microsoft, Rainbow from Alcatel Lucent, threat detection from Jazz Networks and business continuity/disaster recovery platforms from Citrix. Tech companies have it all covered and can bring our organisation up to remote working speed very quickly.

Remote working is performing well in other European countries.

Germany and Finland already have very flexible working from home laws and the UK could very soon follow suit. Although the right to flexible working has been enshrined in law since 2003, this relates only to childcare. Employers are also legally obliged to consider flexible working requests for any reason in a “reasonable manner” and may only refuse these on one of the prescribed eight grounds. Unjustified refusal could lead to claims for sex or disability discrimination, and/or unfair constructive dismissal.

Although employees in the UK have a statutory right to request flexible working, prior to Covid-19 only around 5% of its 33 million workers mainly worked from home. Many predict however, that after the current crisis, flexible working will become the new norm and we will see a shift in the working culture. More employees are likely to ask for flexibility to work from home, thus potentially forcing employers to open up to the idea and consider such requests more favourably than before.

Barclays Bank is already looking into a more de-centralised approach to staff working. The lockdown restrictions created the perfect platform to test out concurrent remote working for 70,000 out of its 80,000 workforce.

In breaking news this week, Twitter has confirmed that all employees will be able to work from home from now on. A spokesperson from Twitter confirmed “The past few months have proven we can make [working from home] work. So, if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen.” Twitter might well be the first of many and we could be looking at a high proportion of empty office space in our towns and cities and a much higher take up of remote working technologies.

The end of the COVID-19 crisis is still some way off. What we know is that coronavirus has changed the world. What we are yet to find out is to what extent these changes will remain or revert. That will very much depend on our attitudes, our capacity to thrive and the technologies available to us to achieve our potential.