The vaccines are on the way – hallelujah! – but what does this mean for the future of the workplace?
At the start of the outbreak I (naively) wrote an article questioning whether the coronavirus pandemic would make flexible working go viral here . Of course the answer, with regard to office jobs and homeworking anyway, is yes. We had no choice. At the time, I thought this was almost indisputably a good thing. As a working Mum, an element of flexibility in the workplace has been sacred; allowing me to spend core days in the office and flexibly work the remainder of my hours at my convenience, in the hope of achieving the fabled nirvana of work/life balance. Then Covid hit and my perspective has shifted. Yes the ability to work from is great when it is your choice, but a regime of forced and continual isolation makes for a very different proposition.
Is working from home driving you mental?
I am, I believe, a people person. I’m not sure that I thought I was BC. I’ve never relished the thought of attending a networking event or considered the office as a particularly social environment before. It was a necessary and accepted norm. However, I have come to realise that there is a danger in being alone with your own thoughts for too long. When sat on your own at your desk at home, what starts off as a minor niggle, can escalate into something bigger very quickly. In the office you would probably stick your head up, ask someone a quick question, have your concerns annulled or chatted through, and then continue with your day; the niggle having been processed and dealt with. Although we have all been effectively embracing Teams, Zoom etc throughout the pandemic, it is the absence of these little chats that I now believe can lead to some of the biggest issues. You are less likely to disturb someone for something small so it just continues to float around in your head, popping up when you least expect it.
Although of course as an employment lawyer I was aware of the potential problems working from home could bring (“mental health concerns” uttered in the same breath as “open to abuse” and “loss of productivity”) I had not really grasped the full mental health impact until now and, with regard to productivity, in many cases rather than employees being less productive at home, often they are working more hours. The work/life boundaries have become blurred. Sometimes we all need to appreciate when we need to give our surroundings, along with our heads, a break.
Is the future agile?
I continue to believe that it is and have read numerous surveys conducted where the outcome is overwhelming that many employees’ preference is for a combination of office-based and home-based working going forward. However there are likely to be some difficult conversations to be had with requests from employees for agile working arrangements in the post-pandemic era. For example:
- Although the role can be undertaken from home, we believe it is less productive, what can we do?
- We have an employee working from home in a similar role, but do not believe that it works for this employee, what can we do?
- My employee is keen to come back to the office, but doesn’t want to have the vaccine, what can we do?
If you are an employer currently grappling with these questions, we have put some tips together here.
To everyone else, here’s to putting down the laptop, putting up your feet and enjoying the Christmas break in your bubble, with your bubbly. Merry Christmas all!
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, Melanie Rowe (Senior Associate), would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach Melanie on 07854029922 or you can email her firstname.lastname@example.org.