Wellbeing During COVID-19
Returning to the Workplace
Does working from home really work for you?
Now that the majority of us have had the opportunity over the last few weeks to experience what it is really like to work from home, and this is something that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, we are having to adjust and to consider working from home as the ‘new normal’.
And with ‘lockdown’ easing and some employers making plans for the transition of employees back to the workplace this is stirring up a range of feelings and emotions. This remains a worrying time for everyone with uncertainty and potentially difficult times ahead for employees and employers. First and foremost, if you are concerned about your health during this transition period do seek help and support.
Perhaps you were one of the relatively few people who already worked regularly from home or you may have been thinking about asking your manager whether you could start working flexibly from home. You may have been one of those who still needed to go into a specific workplace albeit under social distancing guidelines. Whatever your experience “working from home” has been a major theme of the lockdown period and may well become a more expected feature of our working life in the future.
There has been a lot of good, practical advice produced to help people cope with working from home, to protect physical and mental wellbeing and to reduce some of the stress associated with the major changes that have been necessary during the pandemic. Strategies that are easy to apply are often the ones we stick to, such as having a routine, creating a ‘formal’ workspace at home and especially if there is no spare room for an office, setting aside time for food and drinks breaks as well as some exercise. Along with these, try and avoid overworking and checking emails and messages in your personal time, minimise sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake as these can have longer-term effects on your wellbeing and its also important to maintain good connections, to share how you are feeling and ask for help or support if needed – it’s OK not to be OK.
This is also a good time to ask yourself whether working from home really would work for you if it were on a more permanent or regular basis. A starting point is to consider some of the practical issues.
1) Having the right conditions for working from home to be feasible. This includes enough private workspace at home, free of distractions and will also include having the right equipment and furniture to work there safely and efficiently. Check that your insurance and/or that of your employer cover home-working on a regular basis; since your home is becoming your ‘workplace’ then the Health and Safety regulations will apply and you will need to ensure your employer checks that your home-working environment complies with statutory guidelines.
2) If you are storing information on clients, customers, suppliers, contracts or working on specific confidential projects for your employer you will need to have a clear understanding of Data Protection Regulations, You must be able to store (and delete) information, both digital and hard copy, safely and in a way that protects you, your clients, and your employer.
3) Internet and broadband provision will also be an important consideration. It is likely that you will need sufficient bandwidth to handle data systems, video conferencing, data retrieval, uploading and downloading and at times of the day when such loads are often at a peak. There will also need to be a check that information being sent or received is secure.
These are some of the immediate practical issues to work through with your employer if working from home is going to move from being a temporary expedient to a permanent and significant aspect of where and how you will work. We are now through the “exceptional measures” that were urgently needed, so any plans for working from home longer term will need to be more carefully scrutinised and compliant.
Another aspect to consider is whether you are temperamentally suited to working from home. Some people need to have other people around them, the physical activity and interaction of the workplace. Others prefer working in more seclusion coming out to gather information as and when needed and content to work from a Smart Phone and a computer screen. Customers and suppliers have welcomed the opportunity to catch up on calls and videoconferences and it’s been possible to do far more business than expected in such ways. But that has been because of the extraordinary circumstances. Ask yourself whether on a longer-term basis as much of your work could be achieved working from home. This will depend entirely on your job role and may become an important consideration.
If you had the opportunity to work from home on a regular basis recently were you were as productive as usual? You may have found it easier and more efficient working from home without distractions and interruptions, or you may have found that you simply could not achieve your normal daily output due to other factors and without face to face access to others. Some of us will still feel the same sense of belonging and identity to our team colleagues and to our organisations whether we work from home or not. But others will feel that they are losing something in terms of the social connection, the sense of being “at work”, a routine and indeed part of their professional self. For some it has been isolating and has impacted on emotional and mental health. It may be a necessity, and there may be trade-offs of course, but only you will be able to answer whether working from home, given the choice, is the best option for you.
Remote working also demands a different approach to communication over and above video calls and emails and requires you and your line manager to work out what’s best for you both, albeit whilst you are physically distanced. It’s new for you and it’s probably new for your manager so give some time, patience, and tolerance to ensure it has a fair chance of success. Managers will continue to learn how to manage teams remotely when they are no longer immediately around them. Equally each member of the team has to learn how to work with their manager and to be clear on work performance expectations on a day by day basis, not just a monthly check-in, and to be fully aligned and engaged. Communication skills will be as important as ever. Finding how to stay in touch, how to have both formal and informal connectedness will be new territory to explore and will inevitably evolve over time.
Working from home does not have to be an “all or nothing decision” any longer. That decision can now be based on what is best for your organisation, what is best for your role and what is best for you. Increasingly we are hearing the term “hybrid” workers where there is greater flexibility in where and how work is completed. It’s likely that many more of us will mix working from home with going into the workplace, meeting colleagues and business associates face to face, but also connecting to them frequently digitally and virtually. The next few months will be interesting to see the extent to which recent events have truly changed our behaviours and our working practices.
Take some time this week to look at the whole question of working from home from your own perspective. It may well be a decision you need to face in the near future, and you need to establish what is right for you and be well prepared.
Step 6 due on Friday 31 July 2020 – Is this the Wake-up Call you have been waiting for?
If you would like to discuss the relevance to your organisation, please call us