As the UK comes out of lockdown, many workers will go back to the office. But a year of working from home has proven to many – business leaders and employees alike – that going back to the office full-time may not be the way forward. Many will still want to work full-time from home, and others will seek a hybrid option, with some of the time spent in the office and the rest based at home.
So, what does the future of working from home look like in the aftermath of the pandemic? How will it work and how can your business adopt a changed approach so that it is successful for your company and for your staff?
How Has the Pandemic Changed the Way We Work?
Before the pandemic hit, working from home was seen as a bit of a luxury in the UK. The prevailing idea was that staff needed to be office-based to ensure the highest levels of productivity. Without close oversight, many employers were concerned that staff would be workshy and ineffective.
Despite this, and against a backdrop of improving technology, levels of homeworking had been slowly increasing. According to a report from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data, just 1.5% of employed workers in 1981 mainly worked at home. By early 2020, this had increased nearly four-fold, to 5.7%.
But then in 2020, due to the pandemic lockdowns, the position suddenly changed. From the same study, we can see that the numbers of staff working from home rose to 43.1% in April 2020. While things have fluctuated back and forth since then, in response to local and national lockdowns, a large number of employees are still mainly working from home.
Is Hybrid Working a Good Solution?
Companies are already deciding what they will do once remote working is no longer mandated for all who have the option to do it. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
A recent survey quoted in an ICAEW article found that a quarter of employees are so intent on not returning to the office that they would quit if their employer forced them to. Although home working has been embraced by many, it seems that many people have not enjoyed it. A recent Harvard Business School survey found that 18% were keen to return to the office full time – and it was those who were married or parents with children at home that came within this group. It seems here that the return to the office might be a welcome relief from fraught working conditions at home. Having to simultaneously juggle family life on top of working from home has been hard for many. Along with the pressures of childcare and home schooling, so many experienced difficulties with finding and sharing appropriate working space in the home.
The same survey found that 81% did not want to return to the office full time – with 27% wanting to continue working from home, and 61% happy to adopt a hybrid approach of working from home some of the time, but going into the office two or three days a week.
Those not wanting to return at all may have found a harmonious work/life balance during the lockdowns or found it beneficial to their mental health or productivity. However, others will be hesitant due to fears about the safety of the workplace, or the dangers of potentially encountering the virus on their commute.
Hybrid working gives workers more freedom about where and when they work, with greater control over those decisions in a way that best suits their own lives. It represents the best of both worlds: the structure and contact with colleagues that office life brings, combined with greater autonomy and a degree of latitude when working from home. Companies in other countries have begun to offer hybrid working, promoting it during the recruitment process as a social and employment benefit.
Many are tired of being at home. They are missing the opportunities to collaborate with co-workers, or to meet friends for lunch. While it may have been exciting at first to work from your sunny garden with your laptop, or to not even get dressed for a 9.00 am Zoom call, it is evident after a year that it is not sustainable for every business. Being in the office – at least some of the time – could be the best solution.
Should Your Business Offer Hybrid Working?
The pros and cons of both working from home and within the office need to be carefully considered. Businesses need to decide what is best for them as well as for their staff.
Before making the transition, your company should closely examine the business needs. What does your company need from the arrangement? With a virtual workforce, will you be excluding those who personally or professionally require face-to-face time with others? Any adoption of a new practice should of course be tailored to the business – but without disregarding the needs and wants of your staff. Keeping your employees happy will result in greater motivation and productivity, and insisting on only remote working or only office working could also alienate great future candidates.
Offering hybrid working can not only appease your staff, but could also reduce the need for as much office space – hence saving you money. After finding that 80% of its staff wanted to work from home at least three days a week, Lloyds Banking Group recently announced that it will reduce its office space by 20% over the next two years. It is doing this though by redeploying 700 workers to full-time remote working.
Other businesses have already committed to a future hybrid model. Standard Chartered will move to a flexible approach following a review that revealed that 80% of jobs across its business were suitable for hybrid working.
The Technology to Facilitate Working from Home
While home working was initially seen as a temporary move, it now looks likely to become a permanent feature for many companies. Here, the number one factor to consider is the technology needed. Providing your staff with reliable equipment and software is what will facilitate them in their roles and ensure their future success and productivity.
If internet access is not a concern, then the key means of providing access to dependable applications is to use cloud software. True cloud solutions work on multi-tenanted platforms, meaning updates to the data or the system are done in the background. Data is still delivered to users live and in real-time, providing accuracy.
There is also flexibility with this approach. Access via any device and at any time means that staff can work non-standard hours, perhaps allowing them the freedom to take children to school or to work in the evenings, for example. Using cloud ERP like NetSuite can help your staff work from home – whether for a few days a week or full-time. Accounts, sales, purchasing, marketing and planning employees can all effectively manage their work on the system from home, carrying out everything that they would in the office.
Flexibility, it seems, is the future of working from home. In a world that is witnessing greater business competition, and in which many people are now keener to work from home, employers will need to adapt. If you would like to evaluate the benefits of NetSuite ERP, book an appointment now or contact us. Our team of certified consultants is here to help audit your current system or evaluate the right ERP system to do business under the new circumstances.