Many of you reading this will now be quite used to working from home. As the coronavirus continues and many of the lockdown restrictions remain in place, a large portion of the workforce has said goodbye to the commute and hello to home working.
Of course, this isn’t a luxury — it's been a necessity for the last few months. But as time passes and working from home becomes the new normal, it begs the question: should we continue working from home in the post-lockdown world?
Here we explore that issue and consider whether, once the lockdown is fully lifted, we should all ditch the office and embrace home working forever.
Working From Home Might Be a Necessity
The future of the world post-coronavirus is uncertain. Fears of a second spike persist, amplified by the so-far unsuccessful hunt for a vaccine. The fact is, no-one knows exactly what a post-lockdown world will look like.
Consequently, until an effective vaccine is formulated, working from home might well become mandatory for those who can do it. And, even if it doesn’t, for those workers who are able to work from home, their employers might well request they do so for the long-term on government advice.
As and when it comes, the return to the office could take a number of different forms.
Some businesses are considering letting set numbers of staff work in their office on a rota, for instance. Other businesses with larger campus-style premises (such as R&D firms) are even dividing their workspaces into segments, with certain staff only permitted to work in certain areas.
Of course, this isn’t an option for all businesses, especially smaller ones. But until a successful vaccine is found, working from home is likely to be preferred where possible for long after the lockdown lifts.
There’s a Good Business Case for Home Working
It’s important not to undervalue the human element of working from home. While many financial advisers and mortgage brokers were doing this this well before the lockdown and so barely noticed the change, the transition didn’t come as easily for everyone. Living and working in the same place can take its toll – especially for those who live on their own or who don’t have a dedicated office space within the home.
But beyond these important considerations, there is a good business case to be made for people like financial advisers working from home.
First and foremost, it dramatically cuts costs. Property isn’t cheap, and if a business grows rapidly within its first few years, negotiating contracts and finding bigger and better places to work can get taxing.
When your home is your office, those costly overheads — including water, electricity, internet, and so on — are reduced to zero. In some cases, you can even get your business to contribute towards the cost of your household bills.
Running a business where everyone works from home also widens the potential recruitment pool.
With office location no longer an issue, employers can find talent from all over the country, or even the world. While this has arguably been the case for years, the removal of a physical location is a symbolic gesture that genuinely embraces the world-as-talent-pool concept.
Finally, for businesses like mortgage brokers or financial advisers, are offices truly a necessity? Before the lockdown, many advisers were finding they didn’t really need an office. Clients could easily be met in public spaces or in their own homes. And even then, most interactions were taking place via phone or video call anyway.
And since lockdown, pretty much everyone in the world has learnt how to use systems like Zoom and got quite used to the idea of conducting meetings this way.
And so having nice offices merely as a vanity project is destined to be a thing of the past. Instead, the sophisticated application of video and collaborative technologies will now impress and display forward-thinking more than a swanky office ever could.
Why Not Work From Home?
One of the best reasons to continue working from home in the post-lockdown world is simply that we can.
While not everyone has the space or resources to embrace an effective home office setup, for those that can, why not pursue it? The benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Of course, both business owners and their employees need to ensure that home offices are safe and ergonomic. This begins with employee empowerment — workers taking steps themselves to ensure their home working setup meets requirements – and with proper health and safety audits carried out.
Common sense plays an important role, of course — tidying video and audio cables away, working at a desk rather than from a sofa, and so on — but there are other free resources that workers can access themselves. Basic DIY guides, such as this one from StarTech, are a good starting point.
But if we are to continue working from home in the long-term, there will be a need for employers to provide equipment for each employee. There are dedicated home DSE and workstation self-assessment courses available (at a cost), such as this one from Worksafe UK.
Any employers looking to make home working a permanent situation should consider investing in these self-assessment courses. They protect your employees, safeguard your business from a legal standpoint, and generally ensure productivity doesn’t take a hit as a result.
As I said earlier, the future is uncertain. No-one really knows yet what the post-lockdown workplace will look like.
But as the above points show, if we can continue working from home once lockdown restrictions have eased, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. It’s a complex issue, but one that small business owners and other employers would do well to prepare for in the second half of 2020.
How have you found working from home over the past few months? Has it made you more or less productive? Do you think people will rush back to their offices as soon as they can, or will working from home become the new normal? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.