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on what comes next

At some point the Covid-19 crisis will begin to ease and the restrictions currently in force will be relaxed or removed, but the world has changed. Some businesses will not survive and others will have to change. Jobs will have been lost and commerce and travel will not return to where they were six months ago.

One of the things that we have seen is an increase in the level of working from home. I have not seen any figures that I would trust for this, but in my dealings with various businesses it has been apparent that technology has been deployed to enable people in customer care to work remotely (not that that is new). What intrigues me is the upsurge in interest in working from home.

This seems to be coming more from the workers than the employers and, it seems, more from those whose politics lean to the left. That surprises me for in all off the years that I spent managing office buildings and running major operations the primary opposition to  most alternative ways of working came from the unions and those with more liberal tendencies.

There are some advantages to an employer from having workers location independent, the obvious one being that buildings are expensive and if you need space for fewer people you can reduce costs. You can make further cost savings in that wages are generally higher for city centre jobs, especially in London where a salary weighting has applied for decades; cut out the expensive commute and you don’t need to compensate the employee. You can see why the trade unions opposed any such moves with vigour.

There are disadvantages though. You lose the team spirit that you get from having people together. Ideas don’t get sparked in the way that casual conversations around the office can generate them and there can be a loss of productivity control.

Another problem, for employer and employee is health and safety. In the office the employer’s duty of care is obvious; proper workstations, tested equipment, ensuring that breaks are taken and so on. Almost none of this applies to working at home where people might use the dining table or just balance their laptop on their body as they slouch on the couch. Good posture, regular breaks and safe working practices go out of the window and I recall one organisation that I worked for saying that more than 70% of people who were approved for home working had reported RSI issues. This despite that employer insisting that someone from the HR team visit their home to check on H&S issues appertaining to home working before signing them off to do so. The unions did not like that either, and rightly so.

Psychologically working from home can bring issues. I repeated and age old blog on my top 10 tips a few weeks back so won’t repeat all that here, but it is a big change and whilst you might feel that you are doing great in this new environment you may well not be. It can be hard on anyone that you share the home with too, including pets, and any strain on relationships can accelerate a downward spiral in morale.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Working from home can be a beneficial option for employees and employers if managed well and as long as the minefield of employer liability can be negotiated and those allowed to work from home apply good measures of personal discipline in the way that they work and the hours that they keep.

Stay safe out there, working or not.

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