All of a sudden everyone, who could, was asked to work from home. According to the Office for National Statistics earlier this year 46.6% of the entire UK workforce did some homeworking. In normal circumstances, such a dramatic adjustment to how people work is likely to have taken decades, but this had been put in place in no time at all.
Now as businesses begin the process of returning to some form of normality many are attempting to bring their employees back into the office. Numerous employers, though not all, have reported an increase in productivity and performance with the new remote working. A recent study found that home-based employees were 13% more efficient, with participants citing lack of noise and distraction being major influences. Technology has enabled collaboration and to some extent, supervision whilst teams are separate geographically. Lots of employees have reported increased wellbeing from this new flexibility mentioning the removal of the commute and more time with loved ones as a major factor in an improved work-life balance. Though, as with employers, this was not the case for all, and this divide seems to be getting ever larger between workers who have been able to continue their job remotely and those who have not – whether because of the actual job type (it is obviously impossible for say, a production line operative to work from home) or because of lack of facilities, such as an adequate home office. This division has led to some employers deciding that this “benefit” should be effectively penalised by carrying a cost. Google, in the US, are now implementing a pay calculator to allow its employees to see the effects of working from home on their pay, with some now reporting an expected 10% cut if they continue on a long-term basis. Google has not yet examined this for its UK workforce but other UK employers are suggesting that benefits such as the London weighting be reduced if people continue to work from home.
Of course, it now becomes a decision between the employer and employee as how best to carry on and there is no correct answer as how this should be done for everyone. The majority of organisations are likely to develop a hybrid scheme which will no doubt develop to fit their particular business over time. The RSA (Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) report that only 16 percent of those who have been working remotely would prefer a full return to the office.
So, it seems that homeworking is going to continue to a greater degree than previously, but what should we beware of?
There have been many less reported aspects to homeworking and as the imminent danger of the pandemic declines, these will move more out front. In previous times a move to homeworking would have been preceded by a full health and safety risk assessment. The RSA reports that sedentary lifestyles have been reinforced, risking increased back and shoulder injuries and pain coupled with a reduction of physical activity of 28%. Display screen assessments and full examination of other equipment, such as chairs and desks within the working environment, will need to be carried out as we move into a more permanent state.
Additional hours working
The RSA also recounted that although more than half of homeworkers said that they found it easier to get work done, on average, they have been working three extra hours per week. Two in five homeworkers effectively replaced their daily commute with, on average, one hour extra working time per day.
This is being seen in some quarters as an “epidemic of unpaid overtime” and is seen by others as only the tip of the iceberg. A report by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) with research across 10 EU nations found that working remotely increases the risk of hidden overtime dramatically having particular impact due to the lack of clear boundaries between work and leisure with workers taking calls, responding to emails, and working at all times of the day outside any of the parameters of official overtime creating an “always-on” culture. Autonomy, a thinktank heavily involved with the four-day working week, are now suggesting amendments to UK legislation effectively creating a “right to disconnect” based upon French law, which stipulates employees do not have to take calls or read emails related to work outside their agreed working hours. They refer to the fact that women are 43% more likely than men to have increased their standard working hours. For those with caring responsibility, this was more likely to be associated with increased mental distress. Prospect, the union, survey its members earlier in the year and found that among the new remote workers, 66% were in favour of this right to disconnect and only 14% against. Angela Raynor, the Labour Deputy Leader summarised the situation by saying “It is only fair that workers are able to establish healthy boundaries, switching off and disconnecting from work outside working hours. In the modern workplace, we cannot find ourselves in a place where workers are expected to compromise their families, responsibilities, or hobbies in order to meet employer expectations. It’s not a sustainable way to run an economy. Many good businesses want to see these sorts of protections guaranteed to workers across the board.”
However your business comes out of this pandemic it now has the challenge of balancing these new aspirations and productivity gains to ensure not only a healthier, happier workforce but also a competitive and cost-effective business model. It is likely to have some amount homeworking, but it is essential that employees work from home and don’t live at work!
Crown Workforce Management has been helping businesses understand and manage their workforce for decades. Our workforce management system gives you the power to manage your workforce more flexibly and efficiently than ever before. Our secure mobile app lets businesses support remote workers in exactly the same way as on-site staff, allowing them to sustain new and exciting ways of working.
Meanwhile, our consultants will be with you every step of the way as you reshape your company’s working arrangements. We are highly experienced in doing this to help our clients get better control over workforce costs and build on this partnership with their employees. We help businesses to:
Learn how Crown can help your business prepare for and adapt to the post-pandemic world by speaking to one of our specialists today!