With the recent news that Google staff will continue to work from home until 2021, we are already seeing pressure on smaller businesses to follow suit. With the sudden increase in home working, have we thought enough about the potential impact on productivity , profits and mental health?
Never in recent history have we seen employers forcing their employees to work from home. What has always been viewed as a company benefit has, for the first time, been mandated for thousands of workers across the UK.
Plenty of evidence about working from home point to positive benefits, such as an increase in productivity , an improved work-life balance and even a reduction in pollution . However, most of this evidence is based on studies of employees who have chosen to work from home, employees whose home life suits this flexible model.
Despite the upside, there are certainly pitfalls of mandated home working, exacerbated by the fact that the transition has happened so quickly – leaving many people feeling under prepared both logistically and mentally for the sudden change.
One of the most obvious concerns is mental health, particularly around social support and the reduction in daily interactions. While some employees may welcome the increased seclusion, we know that working from home can cause feelings of isolation and can negatively affect mental health .
A Nuffield Health survey revealed that “a quarter those working from home (25%) say they are finding it difficult to cope with the mental challenges of loneliness and isolation from colleagues”. They continue adding;
“And while video calls have proved to be invaluable in linking physically separated co-workers and clients, they are also inadvertently placing more stress upon us with one in five Brits working from home (19%) saying they feel pressure to look good on video meetings”
“Separating work and home has also proved challenging. Almost a third of Brits working from home (30%) have been finding it difficult separating their home lives from their work lives, with over a quarter (27%) reporting difficulties switching off at the end of the day or working week. It’s perhaps not surprising then that a third of Brits working from home (34%) say that it has placed a strain on relationships within the household, with both partners and children”
There is plenty of advice to encourage positive mental health, NHS guidance includes sticking to a routine, creating a dedicated work space and staying as connected as possible using use of video calls and phone calls instead of relying on email.
The future is uncertain but according to a recent Institute of Directors survey , three in four firms plan to continue with increased home-working post-Covid, so although we may not fully understand the longer-term impact that COVID-19 has had on the workplace, we can be sure that things have changed, and they’ve changed forever.