At the end of September the advice to 'work from home if possible' returned and many of the UK workforce had little choice but to return to their kitchen tables and converted offices to carry out the daily demands of employment. Whilst for many the original instruction to work from home back in March was met with relief and a cautious inner glee, this has since given way to a somewhat less joyous emotion.
Working from home, or as it is often phrased 'flexible working', has in itself a number of great benefits. Avoiding the daily commute is one that springs to mind immediately. With no traffic jams or delayed trains to contend with, working from home allows us to 'get up and get on'. Then there's the more relaxed atmosphere to work attire (if indeed, we even decide to get dressed!). There's also the ability to perform household chores between zoom meetings, and of course the added benefit of our evenings beginning as soon as work is done, rather than the usual 2 hour time-lag fighting through the evening traffic.
What's more, there are also a number of wider benefits such as less pollution in the atmosphere and our children getting more time with their parents. However, although these pluses were welcomed at first, the reality of solid homeworking for months on end is beginning to show some cracks. The reality is that many of us may have underestimated the importance of office social interaction and the advantages of a clear definition between work and home life.
Let's take a look at some of the potential disadvantages homeworking might have on the positivity of our mindset.
Firstly there is the potential feeling of being 'out of the loop' on projects, work and team discussions - the simple social interaction experienced in an office environment is impossible to reflect at home. Many of us probably underestimated the extent to which our work performance and output is improved by simply picking up on the everyday conversations that happen around us in the office environment and the advantages of being able walk to a colleague's desk to discuss a particular plan or idea. In addition, the creativity of being in a face to face meeting is often hard to replicate over Teams or Zoom.
However, as pesky a these scenarios might feel, they are usually little more than a blight on our experience and there is perhaps a greater worry that we should pay attention to.... that is, the impact homeworking could have on our mental health.
Fortunately the focus on mental health has increased greatly over recent years and the stigma that used to surround it has begun to diminish. But it is still a significant issue here in the UK. The rate of male suicide last year in England and Wales was 16.9 per 100,000 people, the highest level for two decades, and many expect this figure to rise further due to the coronavirus. The good news is that as more people around us, including many public figures and celebrities, have opened up about their personal battles, we have all become more aware of our own wellbeing and mindset and the importance of looking out for our friends and colleagues in this area.
This is needed more than ever in the current pandemic, and for some, homeworking can affect their wellbeing. For example, without a physical external work environment to visit each day, some people will find the lines between work and home blurred. There could be a feeling of isolation or loneliness, with no ‘desk banter’ or even someone to enquire how your evening or weekend was, you might feel that people are not interested in you or simply don’t care. This can really take its toll on some individuals, especially those living alone.
There is also a danger of 'over absorption'. With no clear definition between the home and work environment, it might be tricky to switch off. Individuals could forget, or refuse, to take a lunch break and the working day might seep well into evening in a bid to keep up with workloads (which may well have increased due to redundancies or reduced resource). Furthermore without the need to actually 'go to work' there may be a temptation to relax too much, perhaps to the detriment of our own self-perception. There will be less reason to get up and feel good, less impetus to dress well, put on make-up or shave etc.
As we can see, there are plenty of triggers that could lead to some employees feeling pretty low about the situation. Add to this the fear around Covid itself, plus the economic worries around job loss or and financial worries, and it's easy to see how the pressures can all mount up.
With this in mind it is an employer's moral obligation to try and protect its staff, especially those working from home. This isn't particularly easy. With physical distance and a disjointed network of employees working from numerous locations, boosting team morale and individual wellbeing is a challenge.
As a family business, we pride ourselves on being close to our team members and we quickly recognised the impact homeworking could have on our staff. As such, we pulled together several measures to help our team as much as possible. Below is a run-down of the ideas we've implemented that have had a positive effect on homeworkers and we hope that sharing these might help other businesses do the same.
- Increased number of mental health first aiders to reach out to any employees feeling stressed or low
- Free online fitness training for team members that would like to participate
- Guidance on professional organisations to reach out to if a staff member is feeling overwhelmed or suffering with anxiety
- Home working checks to ensure home work stations promote a positive work environment
- Thankyou awards for staff who go the extra mile in their roles
- Regular online face to face non-work meetings to encourage general discussion and interaction
- Group chat facilities online