Widespread working from home set to continue in 2021

Widespread working from home has been one of the biggest behavioural changes of 2020, with scores of offices still empty and employees facing months more away from their desks.

In efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus back in March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised the public to work from home where possible.

Nearly half (46.6%) of all those in employment did at least some work at home the following month, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – with many setting up a home office for the first time.

Working from home
Working from home

Over nine months on, many employees are set to enter the new year still working remotely from their kitchen tables or bedrooms, while for some it is unlikely they will ever return to the office full-time.

Dr Alan Redman, an organisational psychologist, said policy makers and employers need to ensure staff are fully equipped to work from home in the long-term.

“The bigger picture is actually, societies, governments, employers, all need to make sure the capabilities are there for people working from home, like fast broadband,” he told the PA news agency.

“Employers who are saving money on offices should be spending money on employees’ set-up at home.”

He said while some organisations may welcome all employees back to the office when a vaccine has been fully rolled out, he believes most will take a “more balanced view” and require only a few days a week.

To accommodate for longer-term remote working, Dr Redman advised making an office space at home wherever possible to improve concentration and focus.

For employees who struggle at home due to space constraints, such as those in shared housing, he recommended speaking to their employer about potentially working more flexible hours.

Dr Nick Taylor, co-founder and chief executive of workplace mental health platform Unmind, suggested workers use the new year as an opportunity to “re-evaluate” their working space.

“Even if finding a new working space isn’t possible, there’s plenty people can do to adjust to the working from home framework in the long-term,” he said.

“Whether it’s taking a walk before and after work to mirror a commute or ensuring they turn off email notifications out of hours, finding the right balance is the key to successful remote working in the months ahead.”

As well as setting up an appropriate workspace, Dr Taylor stressed the importance of focusing on physical health as well as mental wellbeing whilst working from home.

Measures to improve this could include investing in a supportive chair or computer stand to help with your posture, which can boost overall wellbeing and productivity.

Dr Taylor warned there was a temptation to “overwork” while working from home, as our “work and home lives have become increasingly blurred” – which could lead to burnout among staff.

“If senior members of a company are often sending and responding to emails out of hours, more junior employees may feel under pressure to do the same, leading to a poor work-life balance and burnout,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Redman said that many employees are likely to be missing interaction and the face-to-face side of their work.

“The focus is often missing family, missing friends, but actually, work for a lot of people is a quite critical source of emotional support,” Dr Redman said.

“They get something distinctive or different from what they get from their friends and families.”

Business psychologist and coach Jess Baker suggested other ways of keeping in touch for those who may feel uncomfortable video calling.

“If you want to do Zoom calls, do so, it’s nice to be able to see each other. But equally, how about you have a call but actually you’re both out walking at the same time,” she said.

“It could be a 25-minute walk and talk. You are both getting out of the house, you are both getting some fresh air, you are still having that catch up.

“But you are not awkwardly looking at each other, you aren’t overanalysing each other, and you don’t have to get dressed up and try to impress.”