Pre-COVID perception that working from home was much less productive, un-manageable and unacceptable to customers, suppliers and counterparts has been tossed aside as COVID-19 forced a changed approach to the traditional workplace.
Overwhelmingly, these perceptions have been proven to be grossly unfounded.
Technological constraints, security of data, workplace health and safety concerns, accountability and the need to be physically present in the workplace that previously shaped WFH thinking have been cast aside in deference to business continuity.
The workplace has become home, workplace contracts and agreements hastily implemented, and the workforce adapted at a speed that, without such forced change, would have taken years to achieve.
Productivity increases, physical and mental health improvements, and despite the reduction in personal interaction, blended working arrangements seem destined to form part of our working future. Whilst this will no doubt create problems for landlords as companies evaluate their need for floorspace and ancillary businesses suffer due to lower foot traffic, the personal and business benefits must not be overshadowed.
As a recent example provided from a senior manager in a large organisation confirmed productivity increases of 13% for WFH employees compared to the previous office-based period. Further, the team expressed positive mental benefits, whilst reduced travel time became effective work time. WFH also enabled more flexibility in taking time out for themselves during the day whilst still experiencing less distractions than whilst working in a busy office environment.
Post-COVID, it is important that the benefits derived from this open-minded approach to WFH is not diminished.
Whilst many organisations are returning to the workplace in some form, there should be a framework in place to enable a blended work pattern. Negotiating set days per week or a floating work pattern of WFH/In-office days is one method currently being trialled by many organisations.
From an employee perspective it is important that home does not become work. There must be demarcation between work and personal time. Dedicated start, finish, times for lunch, coffee or an afternoon walk should factor into the WFH pattern to promote good health and wellbeing.
Whilst dressing for work conveys a mental and physical switch into work-mode, a University of Technology Sydney fashion historian, Associate Professor Toby Slade recently named this an ‘embodied cognition’ – the idea that if you look the part, you play the part. The relaxing of fashion standards to include company supplied/sponsored WFH comfort clothing maintains workplace connection and sense of belonging despite social isolation.
Negative perceptions have been diminished as the community at large experienced working from home to some degree through the pandemic.
Ongoing success of the blended work approach will depend on both the employee and the employer finding the right balance, which should still include physical attendance in the workplace to maintain relationships with face-to-face interaction.
Over the long term, clear delineation between the home and the workplace-at-home is critical to ensure energy and dedication is applied to both work and personal life in the right proportion.
Whilst COVID-19 has reaped havoc across the globe in 2020 we must not lose sight of the way which we have been able to adapt to fast paced change and the benefit this adoption will provide into the future.
Forced workplace changes have led to surprising benefit to employers and employees alike and should not be cast aside once we return to what we all understand to be normal post COVID-19.