Homeworking — The New Normal

The Covid crisis is the biggest challenge for mankind in living memory. To protect its citizens governments have had to introduce measures that have restricted peoples’ movements, and this has resulted in them having to adapt to working away from their usual place of work in many instances. As we come out of lockdown and to prevent further infection, or at least limit the spread of the virus, companies are going to have to adapt their offices and way of working to help in stopping the spread.

With the government set to release guidelines on a ‘workplace by workplace’ basis for many offices, including shared spaces like WeWork and Regus, there are clearly going to be social distancing measures which will inevitably decrease the capacity of offices and the number of people able to work effectively in those spaces. Consequently, many people will be required to work from home for the foreseeable future, probably until an effective vaccine is widely available.

With a high proportion of people working from home and, depending on the size of the company and available office space this could be up to 65% of a company’s workforce at home, this will have a major impact on both the company’s ability to function, not withstanding the impact this will have on the employee. Companies and employees are going to have to radically adjust to the fact that whole teams will be isolated at home from each other. Fortunately, technology will play a role in ensuring that employees will be able to maintain contact and productivity through tools such as Zoom, Microsoft teams and Slack but these tools will not maintain a company culture which will largely be impacted. There may well be instances of companies where individuals or teams are required to be in the office 5 days a week due to the critical nature of their activity for the performance of the company, whereas other teams will not be required. This could cause resentment amongst the 2 groups of one working from home with the one on the office and this will inevitably impact company culture.

If we look at the employee, one new key skill they will need to acquire is self-motivation. For many people, the last few weeks working from home has been challenging, not withstanding their requirement in some instances to home-school and entertain young families, they have had to continue working in their home environment. If this is to become a permanent or semi-permanent arrangement then employees are going to have to create a working space in their home, free from distractions, that is comfortable and conducive for concentrating. Companies are going to have to take this into account when considering their expectations from their staff in particular their productivity.

Managers too will have to adapt to remotely supervising the activity of their teams. The biggest change is understanding the home environment of their teams so consequently employee relationship programmes need to be reviewed. There clearly will be some employees who will be demotivated by having to work at home as many thrive in a dynamic environment. Collaboration within companies often happens in the office kitchen or at lunchtime and this will no longer be the case.

The impact of coronavirus will be felt for many years to come. It is inevitable it will create societal changes in the way we work, travel, consume and engage with others. Working from home is just one aspect of this and it will be the responsibility of individual firms to ensure their staff are not just safe from catching the disease but equally that they are able to continue to fulfil their obligations to the employer and feel part of a business and group of people working towards the same goal.

London based Executive Recruiter and Radio Presenter.