Kirsty Foster-Jennings says the ability of both organisations and employees to adapt to remote working has to be one of the big business stories to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Working from home is becoming the norm for many employees across a vast range of industries and sectors, so much so that it’s become a national topic of conversation, right up there with discussions about the weather.
‘Are you back in the office or still at home?’ ‘How’s the working from home going?’ Many of us have discussed these questions recently. But how do you know if people are simply giving an easy answer, or telling you how they really feel?
Has the move towards home working been one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, or is it a curse? Do we all need to return to the office ASAP to guarantee productivity? Is remote working a welcome exodus from the rat race? And now the genie is out of the bottle, will it ever go back in again?
Crucially, employers must also ensure they are in regular contact with employees and provide relevant support to anyone who is struggling or feeling isolated.
Having analysed data from thousands of employees, the results are fascinating. Here’s a snapshot of what’s been discovered.
How are people feeling generally?
This is a common question that all organisations want to ask their employees right now.
Making sure people know they have support and can ask for help goes a long way towards making people feel more positive
On a scale of one to five, with one being negative and five being positive, almost 35% of people clicked number four and a third said they feel indifferent. Almost a fifth went for number five, revealing they’re positive about the whole experience.
Crucially, 14% say they feel negative about working from home, and although this might seem low, these people can’t be ignored.
Good business leaders probably already know who is likely to be struggling. An example could be younger people who are living in shared houses and those with limited space or young children. However, it won’t always be obvious and it pays for employers to have a handle on how people are feeling.
The best employers will then figure out how to help. This could mean sending them a more comfortable office chair and desk. Or it might be providing tailor-made training or inviting them to return to the office before everyone else.
In addition, simply making sure people know they have support and can ask for help goes a long way towards making people feel more positive – so it’s worth reinforcing this point.
How well do people feel they have adapted to their new routine?
There’s no doubt that as humans we’re good at adapting to whatever is thrown at us. Approximately two thirds of people said they are coping well or very well and 29% said they’re ok and getting there. Less than 5% gave a negative response to this question.
The fact that so many people are clearly enjoying working from home is good news for employers, although it could make for a difficult conversation when the time comes to return to the office. Will people want to make working from home a permanent part of their work life?
How many people make time to take part in activities they enjoy?
In theory, most people should have a lot more time on their hands nowadays, with no daily commute to the office or business travel. However, we know it doesn’t always work like that. Many people feel the need to do more than what they’d usually do in the office, to make it clear that they are busy working, and not lounging around at home enjoying themselves!
This could be why 36% of people say that although they’ve spent a little time doing activities they enjoy, they haven’t made enough time, and 12% have either not made any time, or very little.
It’s clear from this that both employers and employees still need to do a lot more to achieve a better work/life balance. Remote working isn’t necessarily a golden ticket to the freedom that some envisaged.
How many people regularly catch up with team members and colleagues?
Undoubtedly one of the biggest differences with remote working is the lack of social interaction. For many people, never before have mundane conversations around the water cooler seemed so appealing! So it’s very reassuring that 47% say they regularly speak to colleagues.
Although some days it feels as though Zoom and Teams have taken over our lives, there are undoubtedly benefits of face-to-face interaction with other people. It helps forge a sense of togetherness, over and above a telephone call or email, and it feels reassuring to ‘see’ other people who are in the same boat.
In contrast just 3% said they are unable to speak to colleagues and 22% said that although they talk, they don’t do it enough.
Working from home has massively impacted the dynamics of our relationships with colleagues. And yet the importance of workplace friendships and the feeling of camaraderie that comes from being part of a team should not be underestimated.
More than ever, it’s vital that people find ways to maintain good working relationships and friendships. And this is something that employers can help with, simply by encouraging people to talk more.
About the author
Kirsty Foster-Jennings is strategy director at Cognito Learning