In 2020 the government exhorted the nation variously to work from home, to return to the work place and then to go back home again. Confusing isn’t it? writes Pam Kenworthy of DG Legal.
Despite the change in policy in August, few home workers returned to the office. Apparently, just over one-third of UK white-collar employees have returned to work since the lockdown, compared to almost three-quarters of staff in Europe, according to analysis from Morgan Stanley’s research unit Alphawise.
To me this was not a surprise. I have been based at home for the last 6 years and I can see that many people would have enjoyed the flexibility of working from their own space which involves no commuting, shorter working days and the opportunity to get out and exercise in the sunshine when it is nice. The improved work-life balance is a real plus. It does help however, if you are self-motivated, well organised and a completer finisher. Furthermore, for most employers keeping their staff safe would have been a greater imperative than getting them back into the office.
This complete change in normal working conditions would have been much more difficult to achieve without new technology and certainly it is important to have decent broadband. If like me, you work amidst rural loveliness losing your connection can be very frustrating. I used to have to go to a local café to get a decent signal but during lock-down this was not an option so I splashed the cash and got mobile broad band which has made a massive difference.
We’ve all become proficient on Zoom and Teams and I suspect that IT skills have developed a pace across the country.
The experience will have been more difficult for those with small children at home who were missing out on interaction with their friends and the structure that school or nursery provides. I take my hat off to them all. I suspect that they all breathed a sigh of relief in September despite all the concerns about returning to Covid secure environments.
On top of the suitability of home surroundings in which to carry out your work, some individuals will have struggled due to the lack of interaction with colleagues. The new ways of working have undermined the informal lines of communication that were previously a strong feature of many a company culture. The internal communication has just been lost. There is no doubt that day to day informal support or supervision on tricky issues is key in the development of young lawyers. However, at least you know that your boss is in!
Keeping staff motivated and focussed has been important and a challenge for firms who would have been acutely aware of reduced mental well-being amongst employees. This means keeping in touch sessions have become so important but are very easily achieved through Zoom and Teams.
Equally managing performance-related issues and monitoring staff performance is not straight forward when working remotely. So, the setting of clear targets and expectations accompanied by regular reinforcement has never been more important.
I suspect many employers who spent decades thinking that home working was not a realistic option when their female staff requested some flexibility, now realise that it can be a successful way to work. There is little doubt that home-working is here to stay and firms would be well advised to consider formalising their procedures for the new normal and to be ready for the next lock-down.