In the UK we’ve just experienced a dramatic switch to home working and there are plenty of commentators telling us that working from home, where it is possible, is the next ‘normal’.
But will this really be true? Our research suggests otherwise. From surveying employees and HR directors, we’ve identified compelling reasons for home and office working – which is why a blended approach seems a likely outcome for many.
The case for more home working
Productivity: Working from home does not appear to negatively impact productivity – many felt that they could be really focused and productive, and that they were trusted to get their work done.
Inclusion: For some, the use of technology for meetings was a real positive. Where they might not have felt confident to speak up in a face-to-face meeting, an online meeting felt more inclusive and empowering and easier to contribute to.
Connection: Having video on and thus seeing people in their own homes has really connected people. It seems to have a levelling effect. We’re connecting with another human being, rather than someone in a position or a role.
Networks: Online working has encouraged people to reach out to more people within and outside of their organisation and to make new connections. This is totally natural for the younger generations but perhaps less so for the X-ers and boomers. It encourages and supports a shift, from the traditional hierarchical structures we see in many organisations today towards a more networked structure, which we know is a preference of Gen Ys and Zs.
Wellbeing: From a wellbeing perspective, some employees find it easier to switch off when they work from home and they set themselves better rules; when in the office it’s easier to work late.
The case for maintaining office space
Impromptu conversations: Talking to colleagues is important. Whether for idea generation or just to have a chat about things beyond a work focus, they help keep people in balance. These are harder to replicate online. All our research tells us that face to face is still the preferred method of communication for all generations.
Working in the office helps with setting boundaries between work and home, which, for some, can be hard to achieve when working from home.
The routine and discipline of going to the office can be important too for mental health.
Lack of suitable space at home means not everyone can work productively or comfortably at home.
In our recent generation Z survey, on the topic of preferred mix of work location, 40 per cent of respondents said their preference would be to work 30 per cent from home and 70 per cent in the office. This follows a similar pattern to our generation Y research (2008) and baby boomer research (2013) where the most popular response was the same split.
It’s essential to talk to your employees about their preferred work location before making any longer-term decisions. While we are sure office space will still play a very important role, it’s also worth considering where that office space should be. Do we still need huge offices in big cities or do smaller more regional hubs now make more sense?
One thing this crisis has shown us is that not one size fits all and it’s important to consider individual circumstances as well as majority preferences.
Let’s make the most of this opportunity to review where we work in the future so that employees, businesses and the environment all benefit.
Justine James is managing director of talentsmoothie