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For many businesses, the past 18 months have represented a huge shift in the way they operate. As a result, we’re now in a world of hybrid and flexible working.
This move to flexible working has been hailed as a step forward for health and wellbeing in the workplace. But it has also ignited a debate: is homeworking or office working better for employee wellbeing?
Here, we’ll cover the benefits of homeworking and office working for employee wellbeing.
Remote working was on the rise before the pandemic, but it’s been supercharged by the work from home order that was put in place in March 2020. Although many of us have now returned to the office full-time or are working in a hybrid manner, a lot of people have moved to work entirely remotely. A recent poll found that around half of businesses in London are planning to let employees work from home up to five days a week.
There are many arguments for remote working, and a lot of positives when it comes to employees’ wellbeing.
A better work-life balance
One thing that came out of the pandemic was the realisation that, for many, commuting to work can be wasted time. Why would we sit in traffic or on the train for hours every day when we could use that time to sleep, work or relax?
The ability to cut out that time has led to many of us getting a better work-life balance. The latest ONS survey has shown that home-workers see this as the biggest positive of remote working. But, while this is a great benefit of home-working, it can be too easy for employees to unintentionally overwork from home.
Many businesses were reluctant to employ homeworking prior to the pandemic. This reluctance mainly stemmed from concerns around productivity. There were definitely trust issues, but the pandemic forced businesses to adopt remote work. Fortunately, this has allowed business leaders to see the real impact homeworking can have on productivity. Largely, it is positive.
Being at home with fewer distractions – like office gossip and impromptu meetings – has allowed many of us to get more done in our working days. Westfield Health’s March 2021 survey showed that a quarter of employees felt more productive working from home at this point. An ONS study found that output per job had increased 9.2% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year. This increase came during the period when many people were working remotely full-time.
Since remote working improves productivity and work-life balance, it’s no surprise that employees are happier working from home. A February 2021 Microsoft survey found that over half of homeworkers (56%) were happier when working from home. The popularity of this method of work highlights the mood-boosting benefits of remote working. Improved work-life balance, less commuting, fewer distractions and lower cost are just a few of the reasons for this.
Some people were desperate to get back to the office after 18 months of full-time remote working or brief stints back in the workplace. Office working comes with many positives for your employees too.
One of the downsides reported during the pandemic was workers feeling isolated. If you’re used to being around your colleagues day-to-day, full-time remote working can be a shock to the system. Many people felt less connected to their co-workers and managers, missing the type of camaraderie that is best shared in person.
Over a fifth of respondents to the Westfield Health survey said they felt lonely more often during the pandemic. Human connection is evidently still important in our jobs. While we can stay connected to our colleagues through tools like Teams and Zoom, sometimes there’s no replacement for human connection.
Collaboration made easier
In-the-moment collaboration and innovation can be made easier when your team is present in the office. While a lack of distractions is a key benefit of working from home, office working allows you to speak directly to a colleague about a project they’ve been working on. It can sometimes be easier to catch up quickly in the office than trying to reach them when they’re remote.
While the pandemic proved that in-person meetings aren’t critical to your business, there’s no doubt that they have some benefits. Being together in one room removes the technical awkwardness of video calls. Poor connections, concerns about hearing each other and talking over one another can all be avoided when face to face.
You can spot struggling employees
One of the most difficult things about being separate from your staff is that you may not be able to spot wellbeing issues. Seeing employees face-to-face means you can spot visual signs of stress more easily and chat with them in a quiet place. Remote employees, meanwhile, might not show signs of stress and may not proactively seek help.
When it comes to wellbeing and performance reviews for your employees, in-person is the way to go. Face-to-face conversations foster better trust and create a more engaging environment. Remote catch-ups may lack this personal connection.
Is remote working or office working better for employee wellbeing?
With this in mind, is there a clear winner between home and office working?
The answer to that is no.
Employees are not demanding either entirely remote working or full-time office working. Rather, various studies over the past two years have highlighted that they overwhelmingly want flexible and hybrid working options. An Ernst & Young survey found that nine in ten employees want flexible working to continue.
It’s shocking then, that 31% of businesses aren’t offering any flexible working options to employees. Giving employees the option to benefit from the perks of both homeworking and office-based working is essential. The flexibility is beneficial to their wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity. Now that employees have had a taste of hybrid working, the EY survey found that over half of employees would quit their job if flexible working wasn’t available. It’s clear how important flexible working now is to the UK and global workforce.
The debate about whether remote or office working is best has raged for years and became more prominent as a result of the pandemic. The truth is that there’s no definitive answer to which is better; both have their benefits. Different styles of working suit different people and offering your employees flexible working that incorporates remote and homeworking is the best option. They can reap the benefits of both while remaining satisfied.