The coronavirus pandemic is changing working habits across the globe, with many employees having to work from home and avoid unnecessary travel where possible. But, will these changes last beyond the public-health crisis?
For the working world it is no longer business as usual as the spreading COVID-19 is forcing businesses across the globe to embrace remote working.
Whilst not everyone is able to work from home, those who can are being encouraged to do so in a bid to try and slow the spread of the infection.
This has triggered an anxious trial run for remote work on a grand scale which could permanently shift working patterns.
A remote working boom?
It’s not how anyone predicted a remote working boom would occur, but this situation will give businesses the opportunity to test the performance and productivity of employees and trial what could become the future of work.
Even before the pandemic struck remote working was growing in the UK, with 374,000 more employees working from home than 10 years ago, according to TUC analysis.
But not all businesses have been onboard with remote working and flexibility is still not the norm in workplaces, with over half of the UK workforce (58%) having no access to flexi-time.
So, this sudden access to working from home is going to be an interesting experiment which could help change the future of work.
And, when the public-health crisis ends, companies could find that employees won’t want to return to the office.
But how likely is this?
Initially it’s likely that many employees will enjoy the benefits of suddenly working from home.
Regardless of where you live and how you travel, getting to work is taking longer than ever before – with the average daily commute now stretching to almost an hour, according to new research by the TUC.
This comes at the expense of our time, health and happiness.
Plus, it’s also more expensive than it’s ever been. In the past ten years, rail fares have risen twice as fast as wages.
Now, however, millions of people who might have once been denied the chance to work from home will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, save money on transport and spend more time with their families.
But this honeymoon period is unlikely to last forever.
Whilst working from home has many advantages it also comes with lots of challenges too.
Both businesses and their employees will be forced adjust their work and management to get the most from remote work.
Managers will need to stop relying on managing by attendance and get better at judging productivity by setting and monitoring specific goals.
While workers will need to develop new habits in order to successfully fulfil their work commitments remotely without falling into the trap of blurring work and home life.
At home employees will need to make a conscious effort not to be distracted by the housework and chores that need to be completed. For those who struggle with self-discipline it can be difficult to find the right work/life balance.
Plus, the biggest challenge of all – the loneliness that comes with being isolated from your colleagues.
Of course, we now have the ability to interact remotely through video conferences and messenger services, but tapping away at a keyboard doesn’t feed the social interaction that many of us find necessary to work effectively.
Social interaction is essential for productivity, creativity and our mental health.
Without it our work can really suffer.
So, will this shift to remote working last beyond the public-health crisis?
In our opinion things will likely change to allow for more flexibility – but it won’t be a complete shift to home working.
Yes, it will be harder for businesses to say no to employee requests for working from home if HR has already invested in remote working and the employee has proved to be capable of fulfilling their role remotely.
But the isolation and distractions that come from working from home will continue to provide challenges for many.
Might it instead lead to further growth in the use of coworking facilities?
The use of shared office space allows employees to experience the benefits of remote working and potentially a shorter commute without sacrificing the human element of working in an office, which is often vital for success.
Whatever happens the coming months are going to be an interesting test for businesses and remote workers, but a pandemic is unlikely to provide the right environment to accurately assess what may or may not work for the future.
What do you think? Will the coronavirus pandemic change the way we work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.