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Why the wfh cat is well and truly out of the bag

By Angela Knox | Jun 13, 2021

 

From my own personal point of view, working from home has always been my preferred way of doing things - although I can see that it plainly doesn’t work for certain jobs like hospitality, health workers and delivery drivers for example.

I’m not a closet hermit, and neither are the millions of people who have now made the transition to this way of working. 

Whilst for some wfh can seem a little solitary, there are ways of mitigating this, maintaining a healthy balance between some level of real life interactions and/or online meetings, and working inside the four walls of your home.

I find that productivity and concentration levels sky rocket without the distractions of co-workers and the inevitable grind of the twice daily commute. 

Having worked in many locations including London, the idea of fighting my way to squeeze onto a packed tube train in searing temperatures (even before covid) heralds no appeal whatsoever.  Not to mention the 2 - 3 hours each and every day that are simply wasted time and expense.

Now don’t get me wrong - I enjoy round table meetings and after-work socials as much as the next person (having worked in advertising agencies for many years the inevitable wine bar trips with colleagues and clients did become a compelling and regular feature).

But these types of activities can be worked into the schedule as and when, on an occasional basis rather than with the same regularity as the latest government covid announcement.

And now we’re all using zoom like pros, much of this stuff can be achieved without leaving your armchair or carefully spec’d remote office desk. 

Cost savings to businesses

Since the pandemic, businesses large and small have now woken up with a big jolt to the benefits that remote work brings - financial being the most obvious from their point of view.

It makes one wonder why it seems to have been such a taboo before - despite the fact that many tech businesses in particular had already started to offer flexible working including wfh as a perk.

Tech giants the world over are now creating vast armies of remote workers, realising that they are saving themselves huge sums on their offices (and in some cases salaries) - Pinterest, Google, Facebook etc have re-orientated entire workforces to facilitate remote and home working practices.

And they are not alone, as many financial, insurance and admin heavy businesses are following suit - call centres, even retail businesses which are transferring much if not all of their operations online due to changing shopping habits are revolutionising the way they operate.

So this momentum has truly taken hold and will not be reversed - the wfh cat is out of the bag, never to be put back in.

Increases in productivity

There have been numerous reports carried out since the pandemic about the effects of enforced working from home - some with positive outcomes and some less so. 

But overall, the vibe seems to be that productivity is on the up in the main, due to more efficient working practices, better time management, and the ability to spend more quality time with family.

Not everyone is blessed with a 3 bed detached in suburbia with wisteria round the door and a 1/2 acre garden, with space for an outside office. 

And some struggle to literally fit their work space in around their living quarters because of cramped conditions. 

This is more of a societal issue that relates to the cost and availability of housing, and until home workers are paid enough to afford decent living conditions this will continue to be a problem. 

Let’s hope that now this is a pattern of living that is not going to disappear, property developers and landlords will cater more for home workers than ever, with purpose built spaces designed into the floor plan.

One recent study by the University of Essex into productivity changes due to working from home during the pandemic found that by and large, high earners were the biggest winners, reporting increases in productivity at significantly higher rates than other sectors of the working population. 

Certain occupations also scored higher than others, with the obvious winners being IT professionals, managerial desk bound staff, financial services, but also transportation and retail/wholesale. 

The categories reporting decreases in productivity included obvious sectors such as education, hospitality, the arts, and the motor industry.

Improvements to wellbeing

Within the above mentioned report, increases in productivity by and large also equated to higher rates of wellbeing - presumably because stress tended to be lower.

And according to a recent issue of Cover Magazine, Bupa’s latest Workplace Wellbeing Census, which surveyed 4,000 employees, found that the rise in mental health levels over the period of the pandemic were attributed to home/flexible working and changes to commuting habits. 

The survey reported that 78% of UK employees experienced good mental wellbeing over this period, while impacts on mental health attributable to workload decreased from 36% the previous year to 27%.

37% of those surveyed said that changes to their commute had a positive impact on their wellbeing over the period, with 29% saying the same of home working, and 19% benefiting from flexible working.

In another study, conducted by Gartner, hybrid work models were analysed and questions posed with regard to the enforcement of office based practices into home working environments, which the research found frequently led to overload, fatigue, decreases in performance and feelings of inclusion. 

“Employee-driven flexibility enables individuals to integrate personal and professional obligations to achieve work-life harmonization. In fact, the Gartner survey found that organizations with high levels of flexibility are almost three times more likely to see high employee performance.”

This study also found that employers that do not embrace this approach to flexibility has led to many choosing to stay working at home, with 54% being prepared to change their employer and possibly taking a pay cut in order to do so.

On the other turn of the coin, research carried out by Grid (group risk development), as reported on the Employee Benefits website, showed that the pandemic had caused increases in anxiety and wellbeing problems, as reported by 79% of respondents.

Interestingly, 14% of those surveyed highlighted lack of fitness as a concern, due to sedentary lifestyles caused by over-working (at home), and 10% reported having sleep problems.

What does wfh wellbeing look like?

As a company which developed its programme primarily for remote/home workers, well before covid was ever heard of, we recognised in the early stages of building our portal that content choice, relevance, accessibility and practicality would be key factors.  

We wanted to provide a full suite of tools and resources that people could use and access easily and quickly whilst at home, without having to delve into lots of separate apps, and without the addition of technical complexity and too many intrusive prompts and reminders.  

By speaking to large employee benefits providers and client companies we learned that maintaining engagement with wellbeing tools from remote employees was a constant problem, and that solutions were needed that would cover fitness, nutrition, mental health, sleep, and finances, in ways that would encourage usage but avoiding intrusiveness.

Every company has its own approach to wellbeing and if it has a barometer of opinion to monitor its employees’ needs, attitudes and requirements, it will be best positioned to provide the right solutions to equip its teams with the most effective ways of maintaining overall wellbeing.

Having access to a broad spectrum wellbeing programme which helps to foster a sense of engagement and positive communication is key to being able to create a real sense of inclusion and a feeling that the employee is cared for and respected - and whether they are home or office based the same rules apply.  

Whilst the many benefits of home working are plain to see, from the point of view of both employer and employee, it is vital that communications are fully maintained, with the necessary adjustments deployed in order to ensure that the wfh experience is just as rewarding from a wellbeing and all other points of view as that of working in an office.  

Wfh is here to stay for sure, and wellbeing is a key part of the happiness jigsaw.

Angela Knox

Angela Knox

I am a co-founder and director of Keep Fit Eat Fit Wellbeing Ltd and have come from a business and marketing background over many years, with a particular interest in everything to do with health, fitness and overall wellbeing. Having worked in offices for decades, I know the pitfalls of too much sitting at a desk, the challenges of fitting the gym around other commitments, and all the issues addressed within our website. The personal experiences of me and my partner Mark were the original inspiration for the concept of this website. Enjoy!