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Do we need to go back to work at all?

16 Jul 2020 By Maggie Baska

Following an extended period of working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some office-based firms have announced staff can continue to do so forever. But is this a good idea?

Much has already been made of how radically the coronavirus outbreak will shift working patterns even once business as usual resumes (whenever that is and whatever that looks like). Even previously sceptical leaders have come around to retaining a certain degree of home and flexible working post pandemic. But some are already going much further, with Twitter and e-commerce platform Shopify two high-profile examples of firms announcing staff need never return to the office.

The response from employees at Twitter – which in May told all its 5,000 staff, including those in the UK, it would be their decision whether they wanted to return, meaning they could effectively work from home ‘forever’ – has been positive, Anne Kiely, EMEA HR lead, tells People Management: “The past few months have shown we can make decentralisation and a distributed workforce work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home... forever, we will endeavour to make that happen.”

It seems Twitter employees wouldn’t be the only ones to appreciate this option. Recent research by LinkedIn, which surveyed 2,000 UK adults working from home since lockdown, found more than half (54 per cent) would like to work at home more regularly. And employer attitudes are shifting: a recent survey by the CIPD and People Management found 41 per cent of employers would support adopting further remote working practices if lockdown working was deemed a success.

But might home working every day be a step too far for most? Home working presents lots of opportunities but there are also challenges, particularly around wellbeing, says Claire McCartney, CIPD’s senior resourcing and inclusion adviser: “Remote working can result in people over working and feeling isolated, so a focus on wellbeing is essential. Also, enforced home working during a pandemic is not the same as normal remote working, and employers need to assess the experience with this firmly in mind.”

Indeed, 34 per cent of employees working from home feel it has a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, according to research by Opinium. In its study of 1,250 UK workers, 46 per cent felt isolated, while 36 per cent said they were concerned long-term home working could compromise their mental health. 

Dr Washika Haak-Saheem, associate professor of HR management at Henley Business School, advises HR to ask employees what they want post pandemic rather than making – perhaps conveniently office space and cost-saving – assumptions. “In all staff interactions, it is critical to remain empathetic to understand their needs and concerns and keep the dialogue open,” she says.

Twitter has put significant effort into communicating well with staff and keeping them connected during lockdown – something that will only be ramped up going forwards, says Kiely. For example, the social media platform’s LGBT+ staff hosted a virtual celebration to kick off Pride Month, and its faith resource groups hold monthly online cooking events for staff to bond over a shared meal. 

But while Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated Twitter’s remote working plans, Kiely has no doubt many colleagues will be keen to get back to reconnect in person: “I’ve worked in HR for more than 20 years and been consistently asked ‘when will our company allow us to work from home or flexible hours?’ But an interesting phenomenon I’m observing now is the excitement to get back to the office for many of our employees is palpable.”

Deputy Director of People, Culture & Transformation

Deputy Director of People, Culture & Transformation

WC1N, London

£80,000

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity

Human Resources Business Partner

Human Resources Business Partner

Aberystwyth, Ceredigion (Sir Ceredigion)

£41,526 - £49,553 per annum

Aberystwyth University

Head of Organisational Development & Learning

Head of Organisational Development & Learning

Aberystwyth, Ceredigion (Sir Ceredigion)

£52,560 - £59,135 per annum

Aberystwyth University

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