Working from home can benefit businesses and the workforce

21 April 2020 5 min. read
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Economics has always been called the dismal science, but only now are we truly finding out why, as every day brings yet more gloomy scenarios of mass unemployment and business failures. But might there also be some good news from the coronavirus? For instance, could the workforce of the future be healthier, richer and more productive because of coronavirus? 

Jonathan Berry, European Practice Director at Expressworks, a change management consulting firm, looks at the evidence. “Working from home, as many are being forced to do now, can have a number of benefits, for the individual, the business and society as a whole,” says Jonathan. 

“One of the first major differences that working from home brings is a huge reduction in the amount of time spent commuting to offices. This frees up individuals to spend much more time with friends, family or engaging in hobbies, exercise or learning. While social distancing measures make many of these things impossible at the moment, once the lockdown restrictions start to lift, these are ways we could all spend the additional time gained by continuing to work from home.” 

Working from home can benefit businesses and the workforce

“The impact of children spending more time with their parents, a workforce that is more inclined to continue life-long learning and a population that has more time to commit to exercise, could have tangible and positive benefits for our future.”

“The reduction in commuting is already having a positive impact on the environment. Canals in Venice flowing with beautiful clear water for the first time in living memory, clean air filling the streets of Beijing and the reduction in levels of pollution across much of Europe are stark reminders of the damage being caused to our planet by the way we’ve been living our lives. It is also an indication that change can be achieved, and achieved quickly, but dramatic action is needed.” 

Overcoming the challenges

These are just some of the positive benefits a mass shift to home working is already bringing. But there are dangers in such a dramatic shift too if the change isn’t implemented well. “It is crucially important that we take care of the mental and physical health of people working from home,” says Jonathan.

He categorises his top tips into three steps:

  • Step One – Collect the tools
  • Step Two – Master your environment
  • Step Three – Change your mindset 

Step One involves software, hardware and location. In other words, you need to find software that you are comfortable with that allows you to connect with the outside world. Microsoft Teams and Zoom are two popular choices.

Then you need the right hardware. A desktop with a good monitor at the right height for you is much better than a laptop for long term home working. Making sure you have a comfortable chair and a location with the right lighting, where you can work without interruption also reduce your stress levels and aid your wellbeing. 

Once you’ve got all that sorted, the next step is to master your environment. This comes with familiarity with the tools you are using so that you can use them with no ‘cognitive cost’. Since you’re not in an office, try some background music to help you concentrate. Services like focus@will can play an endless stream of music designed to help you focus for longer. People also need to develop new habits to break isolation. This could be a Friday night ‘virtual pub quiz’ or regular video team chat, suggests Jonathan. 

“If we are to harness the positive opportunities for the future worker, we need to find the right balance between homeworking and coming together.”
– Jonathan Berry, Expressworks

For employers and managers, the shift to home working means they need to learn to manage differently. Managers used to be able to tell a lot about employee performance by just watching them in the office. Since they can’t do that anymore, they have to assess people’s performance by what they deliver. Both for managers and managed this can be a new way of working that drives new behaviours. 

The last step is to change your mindset. “We’re all missing our offices now, but is office working really so great? Think of the constant risk of interruption, the unhealthy environment, the scarcity of meeting rooms and the lengthy and costly commute. What’s great about that?”

“We need to break the mindset that tells us ‘office time = productive, non-office time = leisure’”, says Jonathan. “We need a new mindset that accepts the compromises of home-working and rejects the assumptions of office working. Working at home will become part of the shared culture of professionals.”

“On the flipside though, as primates we are highly sociable creatures and we deeply feel the need to be in physical contact with each other often. This is why lockdown is so hard for us. If we are to harness the positive opportunities for the future worker and the environment that coronavirus presents, we need to find the right balance between homeworking and coming together,” Jonathan concludes.