There are obvious benefits of home working and digital adoption. If there weren’t, businesses would not have already been making the shift pre-COVID19. But it was already a growing trend before it was a forced one.
Flexibility to fit work around other commitments has been longed for, asked for, even campaigned for, for many years. And now more companies are seeing the morale boost that it can bring. There are other clear business advantages too: removing the hassle and costs of commuting, a reduction in overheads and fewer office distractions.
But there are unexpected benefits to home working that we might not have expected, that perhaps wouldn’t have been visible had the shift not been so universal.
It’s not just the stress of a commute that has vanished, it’s the carbon emissions that go along with it. For companies seeking to be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, this is a clean victory. When Xerox switched to remote working, their workers drove 92 million fewer miles and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by almost 41,000 tons in a single year. Now the pressure is off for meetings to be in-person and the pressure on the planet is a little lighter too.
The switch to home working has also changed where we spend our money. Now people are investing more in the local and suburban businesses around them. They can feel a little more a part of the communities and neighbourhoods they live in - and those communities feel the benefit.
With less time in a car or on a train, there’s potentially more time to exercise too. A study commissioned by Sport England reported that nearly two-thirds of adults in England say it's more important to be active now than before the pandemic - and 65% of them had felt the benefit to their wellbeing. It’s easier to run a few miles in the morning if you don’t have to worry about beating the traffic.
Alongside that, there’s potentially more time for employees to get out and enjoy the natural environment. Less time on the roads can mean more time for walks in local parks. Even stepping out into (if they’re lucky enough to have one) a back garden for a few minutes in the middle of a work day.
The People and Nature Survey for England reported that in July 46% of the population said they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic. And 42% said ‘nature and wildlife is more important than ever to my wellbeing.’ If there is the opportunity to take small breaks throughout the day, it can sustain their creativity better than the noise of a crowded office.
The initial forced switch to remote work also led to an even faster uptake of digital services. While cloud technology, shared documents and better CRM systems are nothing new under the sun, they are now becoming more widespread.
What was initially - and for many businesses still is - a disruptive time, has nevertheless forced us to reexamine how we work and what practices are actually beneficial. How many of those meetings did we need? Were those paper files necessary? Maybe there’s a more meaningful way to collaborate and spark ideas?
There’s potential here. If there wasn’t 96% of enterprise leaders wouldn’t be prioritising digital transformation. But the benefits of digital adoption - and the benefits of home working - can only be maintained if companies address the issues that are arising.
What was once termed working from home is now being referred to by some as ‘living at work.’ There’s a significant lack of separation between home and work life that has made it considerably harder for employees to put work out of their mind at the end of a day.
Businesses are currently renting office space in people’s homes. And many of them are doing so for free. While this might have been an essential saving in an otherwise difficult financial year, it cannot be maintained without addressing issues of employee experience.
The space that people have to use to work can also be far from ideal. Those who can afford a large home might work in pleasant conditions but those who are trying to turn a one-bedroom flat into an office for two might be required to work with a laptop literally on their laps. Potentially trying to schedule work calls so that their partner isn’t on a sales call at the same time.
The inequality of experience doesn’t end there. If employers want to keep track of their employees’ wellbeing, they have to track more than their bandwidth. It’s important to resolve issues with private networks and faulty Zoom calls but it’s even more important to have an idea of the wider impact homeworking has on your employees.
High performance and wellbeing are linked. If an employee is struggling to achieve targets or expectations because of a difficult home set up, that can cause them undue stress - such as fear of losing a sale or missing out on a promotion - and the hit to their wellbeing can compound their reduced performance, creating a kind of downward spiral. And employees might not feel confident to speak up about such a problem until it has already taken their toll.
The onus is on business leaders, on HR departments and CIOs, in the case of technological stressors, to identify and tackle these issues before they damage our teams. Then businesses and employees can cement the benefits of a remote working culture within their organisations, without setting the problems in stone too.
To create a holistically healthy home working culture, we need to pay attention to aspects of employee experience that go beyond tech issues. Bandwidth is a part of it but employee wellbeing is the more important part. The good news is that, once you know what to look for, technology can help you measure, spot and address those human issues too.