It may seem much longer to some, however, it’s now been a year since the nation first went into lockdown and many had their first taste of remote work. We quickly went from offices surrounded by colleagues to sitting at the kitchen table at home trying to work out how to un-mute the microphone on a video conference call.
So, how has this big remote working experiment gone so far? What have we learned from our makeshift offices in spare bedrooms and corners of our living rooms? What pros and cons of remote work can businesses now discern? And, when the virus is finally under control, is remote work here to stay?
In order to work effectively from home, or anywhere for that matter, you need to have the right tools at your disposal, be in an environment free of distractions and you need to be comfortable. This was discovered very quickly for most, within weeks or even days of the lockdown announcement.
While the idea of getting cosy on the sofa and working from there might have sounded great at first, after a short time your body starts to complain. The value of a good quality office chair has never been so widely recognised.
Your physical comfort is very important, especially if you do a job that requires you to be looking at a screen all day. It’s also important that you find a place free of distractions where you can actually concentrate on your work. You may live with family or have housemates. In which case, it’s important that those people respect your workspace as well.
Businesses also need to make sure that their employees have the right tools at their disposal to do their jobs remotely, whether that means investing in new equipment or software, or making sure that they have secure network connections to avoid any cybersecurity issues.
If you have the space and resources, remote work does give you the opportunity to optimise your workspace to suit you. You can design a space that feels right to you rather than adapting yourself to the workspace you’re given in an office. You can choose what background music or radio station is playing for a change, or you can turn it off completely. Whatever works for you.
There are many obvious advantages to not having to commute to and from work every day. For example, you save time, avoid stressful rush hour traffic and it’s better for the environment. You can get more sleep by getting up a little later in the mornings or use that time to do some exercise or prepare a proper breakfast.
On the other hand, the commute can be useful for recalibrating from home-life to work-life and back again. Without this chance to change your mindset and get in or out of work mode, everything can blur into one. Some workers even had a go at a pretend commute, for example, going for a walk before and after work to mark the start and end of the day. This way, you get a bit of exercise and fresh air and give your brain a chance to get ready for the day ahead, or decompress after a busy day working.
When your home becomes your office and, conversely, your office is also your home, it can become difficult to maintain the boundaries between your home-life and your work-life. This is completely understandable when your commute is suddenly a matter of metres from your bed to your desk. Whether you are easily distracted and struggle to maintain focus on your work when at home or you struggle to switch off at the end of the day, it can be a real challenge to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
It became clear very quickly that a new type of self-discipline is required for remote work. Otherwise, you risk feeling burnt out very quickly or you let your performance slip. Getting organised and planning out your working days is a simple place to start whether you struggle to focus or struggle to switch off. Stick to your schedule, take breaks, make yourself a proper lunch and make sure you switch off when it’s time to switch off.
Having the whole office working from home has meant that workers have had to think hard about how they communicate. For some jobs, not being in the same room as your colleagues can be very tricky. When you’re working remotely, you can’t just nip over to someone’s desk to check something.
When you’re working on a collaborative project, keeping your colleagues updated on your own progress is essential, especially if your work is informing someone else’s. While instant messenger is great for quick updates and keeping in touch with colleagues throughout the day, it can be easy to miss nuance in communications without body language to read. Sometimes there can be no substitute for talking to a person face-to-face and this is where video conferencing has really come into its own.
The other side of this is the social element. The shift from working in the office to working was so sudden and the nature of lockdown meant that our socialising was already at a minimum that many began to feel isolated very quickly. Reaching out to say hi to colleagues in the morning via chat feels a lot more deliberate than bumping into them in the office kitchen while you’re making your morning coffee but it can be very important.
When we first went into lockdown back in March 2020, many businesses worried that they would see huge drops in productivity and some even turned to technology to make sure that their workers were at their computers when they should be. Luckily, those huge drops in productivity didn’t emerge, however, it become clear that trust is key to a good remote working relationship.
Managers that allow their teams to get on with it without checking in on them unnecessarily show that they trust them. This helps to motivate workers and ultimately, helps them produce better work. On the other hand, if you’re being bombarded for updates constantly, or you’ve even had some sort of software installed on your computer to track mouse clicks or keystrokes, it’s understandable if resentment starts to grow. If this happens, you may well see a decrease in productivity and in certain cases, employees may start looking elsewhere for work.
When you’re going into the office every day there’s a lot of other ‘stuff’ that gets put under the heading of ‘work’. Getting into your work clothes in the morning, the commute, lunch plans with colleagues, office politics. When you strip all of that away and just have the ‘work’ itself to focus on, it can give you a whole new perspective on what you do. This creates a useful opportunity for you to reassess where you are with your actual work. Are you progressing as fast as you’d like? Are you even on the right track or is there an element of your job that you’d like to do more of? Stepping out of the office and out of your usual routine gives you the time and space to think about questions like these.
While some people may have discovered that remote work suits their lifestyles perfectly, offering them greater flexibility and improving their work-life balance, some people have found the opposite.
Some people might miss the social element of going to the office or they might not have been able to create a suitable workspace in their home and are longing to find a better working environment. Of course, this might not have to be the office as post-Covid ‘work from home’ may become ‘work from anywhere’.
When thinking about the future and a post-Covid world, it’s really important that you recognise which camp you fall into. While lots of us will be returning to the office, many business leaders are rethinking their policies on remote work and the opportunity to continue working remotely in some capacity may be given to you. You need to be honest with yourself as to whether or not remote working helps or hinders your job performance.
While the last year has unveiled both positives and negatives regarding remote work, it seems clear that the world of work won’t be going back to the way it was pre-pandemic. The sudden jump to remote working has given us the opportunity to take stock and question whether our working lives are working for us. The nine-to-five working day at the office is starting to look a little out of date alongside our busy and flexible modern lifestyles.