Working from Home: Does it Work?
In August, Fish4jobs invited its audience to participate in a survey about how Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown affected their working lives. With a diverse audience covering all the major industries and professions, we were well positioned to ask whether working from home has worked for UK professionals.
Due to the popularity of roles in retail, manufacturing, driving, warehouse and hospitality among the members of our audience and the impracticalities of carrying out these roles remotely, only 42% of respondents were permitted to work from home prior to the pandemic. However, when push came to shove, many employers found a way to enable a remote workforce, with the majority (72%) of our audience saying they had been working from home since the start of the pandemic. 73% of these respondents still do not know when they will return to their regular workplace.
It’s not for everyone
Predictably, all respondents who have made their careers in the agriculture & outdoor, health & beauty and sports & leisure sectors did not have the privilege of working from home during lockdown and were thus furloughed or out of work.
Similarly, the majority of workers in other industries such automotive & driving (67%), distribution & warehouse (67%), manufacturing & industrial (57%) and construction & skilled trades (50%) were not able to carry out their roles from home.
62% of respondents over the age of 50 have been able to work from home over the past six months, compared to 85% of those who are younger.
Productivity and performance
When asked to compare their performance at home with that in the office, 71% of those who were permitted to work remotely agreed that virtual working leads to greater productivity. The majority (61%) of these harder working professionals attributed their increased output to the fewer distractions of working at home. A further 14% of respondents decided that the lack of office politics contributed most to their increased productivity while another 14% indicated that fewer or more efficient meetings was the driving force.
However, this is by no means representative of all sectors. Half of all respondents working in customer service and call centre roles told us they feel like they have actually been less productive while working from home. Theoretically, a call centre job could be carried out remotely, but workers’ productivity is reliant on employers providing all the necessary equipment and support.
The education and teaching sector also saw a particularly high percentage of unproductivity at 42%. When the pandemic hit, many of those working in education - such as Hampshire primary school teacher Joanne Lawrance - struggled to deal with the “logistical nightmare” of transitioning into remote working with little to no time to prepare.
“We were expected to adapt overnight to long distance teaching whilst also providing in-school care to the children of key workers, and the government weren’t quick enough in producing resources early on” Joanne said. “When you add the fact that we were also providing emotional support and social care for struggling children and parents, ensuring domestic situations were sorted, making sure that vulnerable families had food - it’s no wonder that teachers and educators weren’t feeling productive in the sense that we usually would.”
Challenges and benefits
For the Fish4jobs audience, the most important benefits of working from home are ones that help them to save time and money. Over half (51%) agree that the greatest benefit is dodging the daily commute, while 17% favour increased flexibility of working hours and 15% are fondest of the money that remote working saves. Regardless of age, industry or location, workers in the UK want to take back control of their time and finances, and working from home enables this.
A third of survey respondents agree that the biggest challenge of working from home is not seeing their colleagues in the workplace. Limited access to equipment and resources was the toughest part of going remote for 17% of our audience while creating a makeshift workspace at home presented the greatest challenge for a further 13%.
Despite the number of respondents wishing to see their colleagues, 40% said they do not like taking part in video meetings. Interestingly, the majority (54%) of respondents under the age of 40 do not like video meetings, but it is not such a problem for older generations, with only 36% of those over 40 expressing their dislike.
Despite only 42% of total respondents claiming they already had the opportunity to work from home before lockdown, 82% of respondents now agree that they would like the opportunity to work remotely in the future, to continue to enjoy the money and time saving benefits they have now grown used to.
Before the pandemic, half of those who could work from home did so once per month or once per week. Now, however, 47% want to work from home a few times per week, 27% would like to be at home every day and 20% desire the freedom to operate remotely as often as they like.
The overwhelming majority (83%) of respondents agree that their employer adapted to remote working with speed and efficiency. However, 60% do still see room for improvement, speculating that employers could have done a better job of supplying equipment and resources (33%) and communicating the latest developments (23%).
In many sectors, there are clear indications that remote working doesn’t work for the majority of professionals: shops and restaurants cannot be run from home; manufacturing lines need to be manned; children learn more effectively in classrooms. In other industries however, there may be room for employers to improve their employees’ remote working conditions to such an extent that virtual working becomes a viable option. For example, an introduction of the right support and equipment for customer service and call centre employees may make remote working not just possible but practicable.
When it comes to making decisions about the future of remote work, employers need to listen to the needs and concerns of their people and take action accordingly. The success of working from home for the businesses that pursue it hinges on the support provided to employees, both in terms of supplying the right resources at the right time and also providing solutions for collaborating and socialising, virtually or otherwise.