Before the pandemic, most people in the United Kingdom had very little experience of working from home. In some cases, employees may even have experienced culture shock from working from home, having sat in an office environment for their whole working careers.
Two years in to the global pandemic, it appears that remote-first work is still the preference for the employee. It is understood that a large portion of workers are scared of catching COVID-19 back in the office, or on their office commute. Therefore most would prefer to avoid public places and contact. Also, it is considered that some employees even have bargaining power in this new world of work. Most workers do not want to endure a commute five days a week, preferring to take at least 20% of their working week from their own homes — whilst the economy appears to be accommodating more remote workers.
As companies prepare for not just the ongoing pandemic, but for life after it, 37% of companies in the United Kingdom are already surveying and reviewing office space requirements. Many companies, such as Fujitsu, have already announced they will be getting rid of the office altogether. So what will happen in the future? What are the pitfalls of working from home?
Problems with WFH — or even working from another location?
As the pandemic began, many employees sought a new life in another country. Some countries have brought through special visas for people to enable working from another place, for example Barbados. Thousands of employees have moved to the Caribbean on temporary visas. Companies are seeing that employees are requesting more and more often would like to work in another place or country. With this, brings a variety of immigration and visa issues, according as to whether or not an employee is allowed to work in their new preferred location. Visas can even be voided — and private medical insurance for example — could be cancelled if staff decide to work abroad.
Networking and career advancement
The working environment is an important place to meet colleagues and boost careers through networking with other members of the team. For those who may already have reached the top of their industry, and those who may have a family — these groups are benefitting from the time spent at home. This is in stark contrast to those who are at the start of their career. Those members of staff may be looking to build their network. In a world of working from home, this has become much more difficult. More than half 18–30 year olds in the UK found working from home challenging, compared to only 1/3 of those older than 30.
The blurred line between work and social
Many people enjoy the commute to and from their office; with the physical removal from home helping to kickstart their work day. There is also the question of privacy — the right for an employee to have a social life — but also providing the boss with an understanding of what their employees are doing in their remote work environment. Some countries, such as France, legislation already exists that allows staff the opportunity to “fully disconnect” from work. We expect that many other countries will need to adopt legislation to help staff enjoy a positive work-life-balance.
Health and safety requirements do not yet exist across Europe yet for those who are in remote work, and this is an area in which companies do not yet have legislation on which to act upon.
Working at home may also of course bring an unnatural working environment. Companies are trying to bring through systems offering advice for things like posture, prevention of RSI and other injury caused by the lack of equipment for comfortable WFH. There will need to be ongoing conversations between employee and employer, regarding arrangements around remote work to reach agreement going forward. Not everyone’s home is not setup to work comfortably and efficiently from home.
Large companies have been setting up teams within Information Technology departments that are helping staff assess equipment at home, such as desks, laptops and how to help with things such as posture and other health-related issues that WFH may contribute to in the long term.
Finland as a model for remote work
75% of the Finnish working population felt they could balance their work and personal-life demands, whilst a whopping 86% were happy working remotely. Finland has been at the forefront of flexible working since the 1990’s, with more than 1/3 working from home. The country has a long tradition for remote work. The country has a good broadband system, and digitalization has meant that less documents have had to be move in transit between the office and work, whilst the country enjoys a high percentage of knowledge workers. In addition to this, the culture of trust has helped Finnish workers enjoy a high level of productivity in remote work.
The country even has a law that allows staff to work from a place other than their office to elsewhere for at least half of a week. By April 2020, Finland had the highest proportion of people working at home than any other country.
The pandemic has changed legislation across the world. Governments are playing catch up not just around how many days staff can work from home, but also equipment — and the allowances for spending on this — amongst some of the legislations being considered.