Social researcher Ashley Fell (main photo), along with Mark McCrindle, is the author of Work Wellbeing: Leading thriving teams in changing times. In this guest post, Fell takes a look at the pros and cons of our new norm – working from home…
Over the last few months, homes across Australia have changed from living areas to home offices. According to a nationally representative survey of 1,004 Australians conducted by McCrindle, more than a quarter of the population (27%) shifted to working from home during COVID-19. As the mandate to stay home continued, it soon became evident that this pandemic would provide a unique opportunity to recalibrate a focus on our work wellbeing.
The key benefits of working from home are time and cost savings
According to our national survey of Australians during COVID-19, the key benefits of working from home have been time savings with no commute and less time spent getting ready in the morning (82%). Three in four (76%) said the cost savings from not travelling or buying lunch was also a benefit.
Flexible working hours (74%) and time with family/household members (73%) have also improved with working from home, as has the environmental impact (69%). Work/life balance (65%) and work productivity (51%) have also improved for more than half of those who worked from home.
The challenges of working from home
For those who worked from home during the pandemic, the number one challenge was the social isolation (44%) followed by the blurring of work and home boundaries (33%) and missed opportunities for collaboration (30%). A quarter of Australians who worked from home also said the inability to switch off was a challenge (25%).
During the COVID-19 crisis, the spheres of business and education embraced Zoom and other digital platforms to great effect. Most were grateful to have such connectivity in a period of isolation, yet it also became evident that virtual meetings had their limitations. Along with its inordinate benefits, technology has brought with it some unique challenges, particularly to our wellbeing. It has blurred the lines of private and public; of school and home; of work and rest. It has made it harder to switch off, to connect with the physical world and to be present.
Wellbeing challenges felt even before COVID-19
Ensuring the wellbeing of staff who gathered in a physical workplace was a concern for leaders prior to COVID-19. Increased screen time, sedentary lives and social isolation was already a growing problem and are even greater challenges when staff are working remotely from their individual places of residence.
Digital technologies and a global workforce have been blurring the lines of work and rest for some time, enabling people to work anywhere at any time. This can make it harder for workers to detach themselves from work and can negatively impact work/life balance.
Additionally, working remotely doesn’t help the loneliness epidemic we were already facing. According to our combined research with Reventure of 1,010 employed Australians, almost half (48%) said they felt lonely and 37% of workers felt lonely at work. Of those who felt lonely at work, 40% felt less productive, 38% reported making more mistakes and 36% reported getting sick more often. Additionally, lonely workers are twice as likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months.
Physical wellbeing is another area that often suffers when people spend too long at work, feel too stressed by their workloads or don’t have enough energy because of work. Our research of 1,001 employed Australians showed one in two workers (49%) said they struggle to make physical health and fitness a priority. By removing the commute time (providing people finish work at the allocated time) there is an opportunity for physical health to be positively impacted when working remotely.
The future of working remotely
Despite the reservations held by some organisations towards remote working, our research of 1,015 Australians during COVID-19 showed that 69% of Australians said they were as, if not more, productive when working from home than they were at their workplace. It also showed that far from being a temporary response to a global pandemic, 78% said that working from home will become the new normal.
The future of working remotely will likely be a hybrid. Our national survey of 580 Australians showed 68% of people said the culture and output is best when everyone is working in the one place, with a degree of flexibility for remote working. As long as leaders are aware of the challenges and opportunities presented, COVID-19 may have ushered in a revolutionary change to how we work in the ‘new normal’.
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