One of the biggest shifts that has come from working during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the move from working in the office to working at home. Enforced homeworking has caused some employers to re-evaluate their HR policies around home and flexible working arrangements, and divided opinion amongst employees - some of whom feel the benefits of homeworking more than others.
So, what will be the future of remote working after this drastic shift? Will there be more remote work opportunities for employees or will things go back more to the levels they were?
At myhrtoolkit, we provide HR software for and work alongside an array of HR and employment law partners, who themselves are SME employers and work with a number of SME clients. We asked some of our partners for their opinions on the role that remote work will play in the future of work and how recent changes will affect companies' remote work policies:
Remote working for different sectors
Tracey Hudson, Executive Director of HR Dept South Warwickshire, drew attention to the fact that adjusting to homeworking differs from business to business: “For us, it was easy – everyone just took their laptops home! For other businesses, where all the info isn’t in the cloud, it was much more challenging.”
She also pointed out that for many, the novelty factor of working from the bedroom or dining room table has begun to wear off: “employees are getting tired of meetings staring at screens instead of humans, and the ability to switch off from work is becoming more difficult when you sleep or eat dinner with your family in your ‘office’.”
Guide for employees: Working from home tips for COVID-19 and beyond
She also reports that some employers are keen to use this time as a test to see if they can build in more remote working for the future. “Employees are asking for more flexibility on working location so that you can maintain relationships with your colleagues in the office and maximise opportunities for team-working by being in the same place, but also working from home when you need to really concentrate and focus on something."
Remote working also has the potential to benefit employers, as more staff working from home means that less office space is required, reducing costs. Making office working optional also has the benefit of widening the pool from which employers can recruit from, so it may not be the case that many companies will switch to a complete remote work environment. “Our view is that lockdown in the UK will change the way we view home-working and widen recruitment opportunities now that we don’t feel that we need to employ someone local because they must be in the office everyday.”
Learn more: Hiring remotely: how to recruit employees during lockdown
Remote working and childcare responsibilities
Helen Colechin, MD of HR Dept South London, highlighted the issue of employees working from home who also have child care responsibilities. She said that “many working parents are currently juggling work and child care responsibilities, which previously employers might have had concerns with.
“There will need to be good assessments of how this has worked if there are to be ongoing requests to employers for this to become a more permanent arrangement.”
Watch our webinar: Supporting staff with childcare during lockdown
Now might be a good time for employers to begin assessing how well homeworking works for their business: surveys can help to capture data on how employees feel their performance is affected by working at home, and more objective measures such as KPIs can show whether homeworking is having a positive or negative impact on things like productivity. If it can be shown that homeworking has an overall positive impact on business, employers might consider making homeworking a permanent feature of the future workplace.
The long-term consequences of remote working?
Suzanne Tricker, Director of Amica HR, warns that employers need to think about the long-term consequences of a remote workforce on business:
“I think employers need to think about the long-term effects on individuals who are working from home and perhaps feeling isolated. I anticipate that there will be a lot of cases of work from home fatigue and knock-on effects on productivity.”
She predicts that there will be a rising trend in flexible working in the short to medium term, but wonders if long-term “workplace culture will go back to favouring office work, especially if employers aren’t putting the strategies in place needed for successful remote working.”
These strategies include things like ensuring that employees remain engaged and productive, which will require a rethinking of the traditional ways in which these outcomes are usually monitored and measured.
Learn more: How to monitor and manage productivity
Whether remote working will come to play a bigger role in our future work lives remains to be seen, but the rise of homeworking during the coronavirus pandemic has opened up a new world of possibilities for employers - how they navigate the various opportunities and pitfalls of homeworking will determine the fate of the office.
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Written by Kate Taylor
Kate is a Content Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit. She is interested in SaaS platforms, automation tools for making HR easier, and strategies for keeping employees engaged.