By Kathryn Knights, Management and Leadership Tutor at Professional Academy
The coronavirus hit the UK with a bang back in March 2020. Organisations had to adjust quickly when they realised the problem was not going to be a temporary blip. One of the biggest changes we have seen is the rise in home working. And now we've had a taste of it employers will be under pressure to support remote working practices in the future. It’s not all been plain sailing, so what have we learned so far and how will it help us in the future?
The line between work life and personal life has become truly blurred. With so many people using video calling as a way to keep the communication channels open, more and more of us have seen into the personal world of our co-workers. We’ve seen a side to people we may never have seen before – but one that contributes to making us who we really are. From cats wandering in front of screens to children screaming attention during team meetings – we’ve shown a side that feels more authentic and genuine. And it’s resulted in us feeling better connected and more comfortable with the awkwardness that these sorts of scenarios present and we should continue to embrace it.
Managers and leaders have realised the true importance of empathy. With everyone being impacted by the coronavirus is some way it has become impossible for people to ignore the very real challenges it has presented. Line mangers have, on the whole, risen to the challenge and shown extra patience and empathy. They have given people the time and support they need to adjust to a new way of working, both practically and emotionally.
The ability to connect with others on an emotional level will hopefully extend far beyond lockdown in order to build teams and organisations that truly care for each other and understand each other.
A 2013 study carried out by Stanford showed that remote workers were about 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts. Remote workers also took fewer days sick leave.
Pre-coronavirus many organisations were reluctant to support the concept of remote working. However, lockdown has forced us into new ways of working and organisations have had to adapt or face going out of business altogether. Managers who feared or felt they could not trust their team to work remotely have discovered quite the opposite.
Coronavirus has proved that ‘presenteeism’ (being in the office) doesn’t make ‘getting the work done’ inevitable. Giving employees the freedom to own their working day and create their own conditions for working productively is a much smarter way to run a business.
Office space has been squeezed in recent times as the cost per square foot of floor space has soared and companies have sought out ways to reduce their overheads.
Coronavirus has given us social distancing. Something that will bring benefits to the way we work in the future. Social distancing has created a new spatial awareness and given us space to ‘breathe’, creating calmness in a time of crisis. When the time comes to go back into the office employers will need to provide adequate space for their staff. And the longer the guidelines are in place the more ‘normal’ that environment will become. People will demand that space be maintained to help them stay happy and healthy. Employers will need to be mindful of this.
Working from home has resulted in our homes becoming multifunctional spaces. And with modern homes squeezed on space it can often mean that one room must act as office, play area and dining area.
We must set clear boundaries in relation to the time and space we use for work. Communicating this information to the people we live with, out of respect if nothing else. For example, clearing away work-related equipment once the working day has finished stops the temptation to keep checking email and sends an emotional message that work is over for the day.
Remote working can feel lonely, especially when performed over a long period of time with no opportunity for real life socialising. This is further compounded if you have a small circle of friends or live alone. In the Buffer ‘State of Remote Work’ 2019 report loneliness was cited as the second biggest struggle when working from home. Technology can help us feel connected to a certain degree but it’s no substitute for real life face-to-face interaction.
With everyone going through the coronavirus crisis together it has given us a common theme on which to bond. We have got better at sharing our feelings and telling others if we don’t feel happy. We have also got better at asking other people how they are and this goes further than just asking them how their weekend went and digging deeper when people show signs of unhappiness.
We must maintain our commitment to normalising conversations around loneliness to support the mental health of our colleagues. After all, what is an organisation without its people?
Kat Knights is a writer, tutor and mentor for Professional Academy and also writes for HFE - a provider of personal trainer courses.