So, you all remember the Covid pandemic back in 2020? You know, the one where the world faced its biggest post-WW2 threat to life?
It was a scary time, and many families bear the scars from the medical impact of the Covid virus. So, it's not a topic we want to treat lightly.
But, in the business world, we (inadvertently) all took part in the biggest ever unplanned experiment in working practices. Practically overnight, every business adopted a mass work-from-home policy.
Companies that had always said remote working wouldn't work were proved wrong as everyone adapted to this new of working. The predicted falls in productivity didn't happen, with most companies reporting the opposite as staff integrated their work and life together.
In short, it worked.
In fact, it worked so well that employees wanted to keep it in place after the pandemic. And that's what happened. For a time.
But we're now seeing the tide turning with employers insisting on staff returning to the office, even though they have been perfectly productive working remotely.
So what's going on? Let's consider some of the arguments being put forward for scrapping WFH.
Staff Aren't as Productive When Working from Home
Really? Compared to what exactly?
The fact is that many businesses reported increased productivity from their staff after the shift to WFH. In some cases, this was due to people having fewer distractions and being able to work in a more comfortable environment than a traditional office space.
At the heart of that statement is the assumption that the workplace is some kind of utopian world of 100% productivity. Hands up everyone who has never done any online shopping, browsed the sports results, or just killed time chatting at work.
In the workplace, managers assume everyone is working, and staff think managers are satisfied to see them working (or at least appearing to work). It's an illusion that seems to keep everyone happy. But it is just an illusion. There is very little correlation between hours spent in the office and work completed. In fact, if you were to conduct an anonymous survey, you'd probably find that people stretch the work to fill the hours, not the other way around.
In reality, workers can be just as easily distracted in the office as they can be when working from home. With loud conversations, ringing phones, and frequent interruptions, the office environment presents its own set of distractions.
The Workplace Offers Better Team Collaboration
Collaboration between staff members is much easier to achieve in a physical space. The ability to gather in team meetings and engage in brainstorming sessions fosters a sense of unity and synergy among colleagues. However, the past few years have proven that remote collaboration also works just as well. The same results can be achieved remotely through video conferencing tools.
Working from home doesn't force people into isolation; it enables collaboration as effectively as an office environment. With the right communication platforms and technologies, teams can connect virtually, share ideas, and work together seamlessly.
While the office environment offers more opportunities for informal interaction between staff members, such as water cooler chats or impromptu discussions, it's worth considering if these informal conversations need to occupy valuable workspace. In fact, remote work allows individuals to focus on their tasks without interruptions, boosting productivity and efficiency.
Remote Working Impacts Mental Health
Another argument in favour of remote working is that it provides individuals with the flexibility to create a work environment that suits their personal needs and preferences. While it is true that working alone can hurt some people's mental health, this concern can be effectively addressed by implementing regular check-ins and fostering a supportive company culture.
Additionally, working from home can mitigate some of the challenges that arise in traditional office settings. Despite the perception that office life is inherently better for mental health, it is important to acknowledge that it is not a panacea. Think about toxic workplaces, bullying, and open-plan offices, which can create constant noise and interruption, leading to increased stress and decreased productivity.
In our experience, the single most requested benefit by candidates is workplace flexibility. And it's not going away.
It may need a complete shift in mindset for companies to permanently adopt WFH as a standard. And, yes, they might need new systems to manage staff and monitor productivity. But innovation and evolution are at the heart of engineering. So it shouldn't be too big a problem. Should it?