Homeworking: 3 Important Lessons Employers Must Take from Lockdown

Homeworking: 3 Important Lessons Employers Must Take from Lockdown

Eight months into the pandemic, with large areas of the UK under local restrictions and the threat of country-wide measures ever-present, what lessons about homeworking can employers learn from the national lockdown? 

Between the end of June and the beginning of July, we surveyed more than a thousand working adults to find out how employees coped with working from home during the pandemic. We wanted to get a clearer picture of the challenges employers face managing homeworkers – and an insight into the concerns of those employees who have yet to return to the workplace.  

Our research shows that many people (34%) believe lockdown has demonstrated remote working can be effective, with nearly a quarter (23%) anticipating that in the future, their company will be much more flexible in giving employees a choice to work from home. However, almost one third (31%) felt that the lockdown had negatively impacted their employer.

 

Homeworking opinions graph

It seems then that not all businesses moving to homeworking during lockdown found things plain sailing. With a lot of employees still working remotely and the likelihood that many more will follow if the crisis continues, our survey highlights three key lessons for employers:

 

  1. Employees respond in very different ways to homeworking

One thing the pandemic has shown us clearly is that, when it comes to working from home, people respond very differently.

Before COVID-19, we might intuitively have thought that most people – given a chance, would prefer to work from home. However, our research shows that while more than one third (36%) of people are happy to work from home, for a significant number (20%) the homeworking experience has caused increased anxiety and stress. Concerningly, more than one in ten (11%) of those we surveyed revealed that they often take their work-related stresses out on family and friends.

The contrast in employee attitudes to homeworking reflects the wide variations in the personalities, personal circumstances and environment preferences present in most workforces. While some individuals will find it relatively easy to adjust to working alone and communicating virtually, others will struggle to make the transition.

Employers need to recognise that managing homeworkers requires tailored solutions, and ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategies don’t work. Businesses must make allowances and adjustments to accommodate individual requirements, providing a flexible, personalised environment that enables the employee to deliver their optimum performance.

 

  1. Managing homeworkers requires a different approach

In lockdown and post-lockdown, many managers have found themselves responsible for homeworking teams and individuals who would usually be office-based.  For an employer used to sharing the same physical workspace as their team, adjusting to the concept of remote management can be challenging. 

When people are working from home, employers have to recognise that everyone has their own unique way of operating – and ensure that each individual employee has everything they need to deliver what is required of them. Managers must learn to trust their teams and adjust how individual performance is monitored, with the focus shifting to outcomes and achievements – rather than micro-management and concerns about what individuals may be doing at any point in the day. 

Our research shows employees have found it challenging at times to balance work with their personal life. For some employees, homeworking may conflict with parental or other caring responsibilities – 12% of those we surveyed told us they’d struggled to look after children whilst working from home.

The blurring of boundaries between work and personal life can also create problems: more than a quarter (28%) said they found it difficult to separate their work and home life in lockdown. 16% said they feel obliged to always be ‘on call, and nearly a quarter (22%) admitted to working beyond their regular finish time.

Challenges of homeworking graph

These numbers indicate that stress and burnout are real threats to homeworkers, and employers need to help people create clearer boundaries between work and personal time. On this point, I recently came across an interesting article about how Microsoft has introduced a ‘virtual commute’ feature into MS Teams to help employees avoid burnout while working remotely

For more information on managing homeworkers, see our blog  5 Essential Tips for Creating an Effective Homeworking Team.  You might also be interested in an interview I gave recently to the Association of Accounting Technicians for an article Remote control: How to motivate and manage a virtual team.

 

  1. Employees have real concerns about returning to the workplace

While some businesses have brought their workforces – in full or in part – back into the workplace, many have yet to do so.  Their reluctance is understandable: Government guidelines around COVID-19 safety are complex, vary from sector to sector, and communication has sometimes been confusing. 

The concerns that employees have are reflected in our research. A quarter of those surveyed feel that Government advice for returning to work is unclear, 27% are anxious about returning, and 31% are worried about contracting COVID-19 at work. Only 18% were looking forward to being back in the office, 

Returning To Work Graph

Clearly, until a vaccine becomes available, a lot of people who’ve been working from home will remain nervous about returning to the office. For businesses planning to bring employees back, the onus will be on them to demonstrate that they have taken all necessary steps to keep their workforce safe. Creating a COVID-safe environment puts additional pressure on employers, and inevitably, practical issues and costs mean that it won’t be a viable option for all businesses. 

 

COVID-19 & Homeworking: Is Your Business Winter-Ready?

If you’ve adopted homeworking during the pandemic and your employees are still working this way, do you really know how they’ve been affected? Perhaps your team is back in the workplace for now, but if you need to revert to homeworking again this winter, how will they respond? Can you be sure that individually and collectively they’ll work as effectively as when they’re in the office and deliver the results you need?

For many businesses, what began as a temporary solution has now evolved into a semi-permanent way of working. If you introduced homeworking into your organisation during the pandemic, we can help you implement strategies to keep your workforce happy, motivated and productive!

Call us today to arrange an initial conversation.

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