The majority of us have spent the past few months adjusting to the ‘new normal’ since the outbreak of COVID-19. We’ve socially distanced, worn masks to every outing and our working lives have most definitely changed, mainly through working from home.
But what lasting effects will COVID-19 have on the way we work? Has this new normal highlighted the pitfalls of our usual ways of working? Do business owners and staff actually prefer the current working conditions?
In this article, the business energy experts at Business Electricity Prices explore how companies can learn from the ‘new normal’ and improve productivity and work rates.
How has COVID-19 impacted businesses?
As aforementioned, remote working is an activity that a great deal of us have had to get used to. Businesses around the globe have had to adjust to new ways of working and for some, it would seem that the pandemic has had some lasting effects.
Helen White, Co-Founder of Houseof, highlights the effect that the Coronavirus pandemic had on her business:
“During lockdown we chose to end our office lease. We have always encouraged flexible working, but our office was part of our identity and brought us together as a team,” she said.
Helen stated that despite flexible working being allowed in the past, her team only noticed the full benefits during COVID-19 when it became an obligation rather than a choice:
“We realised how accustomed we had become to working remotely. We consulted the team and started debating whether we all wanted to go back.
“It wasn’t about saving money… We have always said ‘work where you work best’ and in reality, we all work best remotely as we can eliminate distractions and focus on work. The reality was that many of us had been forcing ourselves into the office most days.”
Homeworking has brought about a number of benefits for both employees and business owners. For example:
- Reduced travel costs
- Lower energy bills and other business overheads
- Staff get to spend more time with friends and family
- Increased productivity
On the other hand, working from home does have its downfalls.
Matt Goodman, partner at commercial property consultancy, Matthews & Goodman, highlighted some of his issues with homeworking:
“For many, their office, IT, bandwidth, connection speeds and ‘desks’ are far superior in the office than their working from home options.”
Helen White identified the impact on working relationships as another downfall:
“The hardest part of working remotely is the lack of comradery. We aren’t there to have check-ins and catch up on what was going on in each other’s lives. Often, when someone is underperforming in work, it can be due to external factors and these are hard to identify [whilst homeworking].”
What do businesses need to focus on after COVID-19?
Taking these factors into consideration, if business owners are to continue allowing staff to work from home after COVID-19, what factors should they focus on in order to ensure that this is executed effectively? How can they combat the downfalls to ensure that staff are comfortable and capable of doing their jobs to a high standard?
Below we highlight the top 5 areas that businesses should focus on in order to enable staff to work effectively from home.
1. Trust within the business
Employers must trust staff to complete their work to a high standard regardless of where they’re working.
“Trust is an essential building block of any successful team,” said Darren Hockley, MD at DeltaNet International.
“If there is a way to find positivity in the midst of the infectious outbreak, perhaps building trust between employers and their employees is one of them.”
An employee at Morgan Jones Recruitment Consultants highlighted how homeworking during COVID-19 has improved the levels of trust within her company:
“Our boss had already implemented working from home capabilities, but they had never truly been “battle tested” until the lockdown.
“We’ve actually seen a spike in productivity. This has grown our boss’ trust further.”
2. Appropriate workstations
Although staff may feel more comfortable at home, it is debateable whether this environment is effective in terms of ergonomics.
“I’ve seen people perched on the end of a bed in a child’s room trying to work because it’s the only place in the house that isn’t noisy,” said Susy Roberts, Founder of Hunter Roberts.
“Organisations have to invest in making sure people have the right working space. This means completing proper assessments and providing all the resources people need. People with disabilities were probably working in spaces adapted to suit their needs, and when they’re working from home their employers have a duty of care to ensure their needs are being met there too.”
3. Access to required resources
Issues with broadband and getting access to business resources were outlined as one of the downfalls of homeworking. A recent article from the Daily Mail Online stated that a shocking 10 million homes were affected by subpar broadband during lockdown, and over 50% of people reported that they struggled to complete work-related tasks as a consequence of this.
Matt Goodman underlines the importance of rectifying such technical issues:
“What do [successful companies such as Twitter and BT] have in common? Rather than expecting their employees to fund their own IT and workspace requirements, they are providing them with the correct equipment to do their jobs just as – or potentially even more so – productively remotely.”
4. Teamwork and keeping in touch
As a declined sense of comradery was also highlighted as a pitfall of working remotely, businesses should encourage staff to continue to engage with each other; not only for work purposes but also to maintain a sense of fellowship.
Deborah Graham-Wilson, Head of Marketing at Eland Cables issues what she misses most about office working:
“I miss the collaboration, hearing other people’s ideas, and just the wider understanding of commercial activity that you gain from just overhearing conversations that happen around you,” she said.
Susy Roberts highlights what businesses can do to help maintain a sense of comradery:
“Encourage a culture of breaks and social activities. It may be difficult to monitor, and you can’t force people to join in but you can create an environment that makes it clear they’re encouraged.”
Susy also suggests creating sporting challenges (where government rules permit) or “channelling some budget into a fun learning activity.”
5. Choice and flexibility
Most of the employees and business owners spoken to stated that their teams preferred to have a mixture of home and office-based working. By giving staff a choice, you allow them to fit their jobs around their needs, which can improve productivity.
Deborah Graham-Wilson stated:
“I’ve now regained that elusive work/life balance.
“I’d like to work from home permanently but have the option to occasionally hot-desk when I need a little jolt of office energy from time to time.”
An employee at Morgan Jones Recruitment Consultants said:
“The idea of office space and presenteeism has been well and truly shaken. [Remote working] will allow expansion and enable you to find the best people anywhere in the world to work for your company or project.”
Overall, COVID-19 has definitely shifted the way we work in a number of ways. However, it is up to companies to adjust to these changes in an effective manner; they must ensure that their staff is equipped with all the resources and support they need to continue to perform well in their roles. This is the only way to stand the test of time in such unprecedented circumstances.
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