Are you working from home, or living at work ?

Posted by Michelle Lewis on August 11, 2020

working from home  life balance

Now that we are months into the work-from-home shift and any sense of novelty has well and truly worn off, it's time to reflect on how the work-life balance is working out ?

 

In July, a survey by Gartner found 82 percent of US business leaders planned to introduce permanent WFH positions post-COVID, with almost half - 47 percent - saying they would allow some of their employees to work remotely full-time going forward.

This scenario is likely to be repeated across corporate Australia with companies already signalling to knowledge workers they should plan to continue working from home at least through to the end of the year, and in all likelihood beyond that. 

But is full-time working from home what employees want? At the start of the pandemic it seemed so.  But as time marches on has the novelty for workers worn off?  Is it becoming too difficult to separate our working lives from our lives?  

 

Covid-inspired WFH is not the same as choosing to WFH

Prior to the pandemic, working from home was in many workplaces considered to be a privilege. It was in the same basket as flexible hours or job-sharing. Many workers coveted working from home but it was difficult to find employers willing to take the 'risk.' The fear that employers had about all these work practices was that productivity would suffer.

Now, due to the pandemic, thousands of previously office-bound roles have been shifted suddenly to the home-front, but when its not a choice, and it is 5 days a week, the appetite for many workers seems to be waning. 

There’s nothing flexible about these arrangements when you have nowhere else to go.

Instead of making work more comfortable, today’s circumstances risk making the home much less so.

 

Separating work life from home life

We used to think of our homes as safe spaces, refuges from the difficulties of long days and demanding customers, somewhere to shelter and switch off.  Now we have lost that.

Instead of using the commute to separate our work and home lives, many employees are blurring the lines and running their work days through lunch breaks and into evening time.

There’s tons of practical advice out there on how to protect your work-life balance: set up a regular schedule, get some exercise, have a designated workspace, even if it’s only a corner of your bedroom. But longer term, how is this working from home going to work and do we want it?

 

More productive...maybe - but at what cost?

In the early days of the WFH shift - productivity increased across the board. Workers were so grateful to still have a job and were determined to show it was a viable way of working. No 'Job Seeker or Keeper' required, this was a case of 'Job Saving.'

When we work from home, we found the distractions of office life were removed. Initially, we got more stuff done - caveat here being those who had small children, dodgy internet, or poor collaboration tools.

However, over the longer term, can we sustain this increased productivity?

The longer we are physically isolated, removed from social interactions with colleagues, and the 'new normal' bores us to tears, it is inevitable that our energy levels will drop.

Projects take longer. Collaboration is harder. And training new workers is a struggle. Increased productivity over the longer term is unlikely to be sustainable.

Being measured by output brings its own stresses

The WFH shift initially allowed many knowledge workers to leave behind work over-reach and burnout. There was no longer any prize for being the last one to leave the office. 

But now employees will need to be measured more or less entirely by output. Needing to sustain a high level of output will bring its own stresses. If the remote working lives we’ve constructed during quarantine are following the same old paths, we are not better off, in fact we are significantly worse off.

 

WFH-or-live-at-work

I need a bigger house!

Employees are also discovering that carving out a corner of the kitchen or bedroom for a work station is not going to cut it over a longer period of WFH. Permanent remote work cannot take place at the corner of a kitchen table peering into a laptop while perched on a stool. 

If working from home becomes permanent, employees will have to dedicate part of their private space to work. This requires purchasing desks, ergonomic chairs and office equipment. The space must be heated, cleaned, maintained and paid for. 

Already there is suggestion this will have a flow-on effect on the housing market. Living close to the CBD becomes less attractive and extra space in which to work becomes more desirable. 

 

Post-pandemic location strategy....why employers may support permanent WFH

As office buildings in the Australian cities sit empty, many corporates are weighing the economic benefits of keeping their workforce remote either full or part-time post-pandemic.

Pre-coronavirus estimates put savings for US employers at about $10,000 per year for each employee who works from home. The insurance giant Aetna shed 2.7 million square feet of office space resulting in a cost saving of $78 million per year

Barclays CEO, Jes Staley has announced that the majority of its staff currently working from home or at backup sites, will not revert fully to their pre-Covid working habits.

“There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy…the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past."
Of course, savings for employers, inevitably mean additional costs for employees.  Katie Storey, principal at Storey Design, says that her residential and commercial interior design firm is already seeing the trend.
 

“Instead of allocating a corner of the den, there’s now a real focus on where can we convert a closet or add a room under the steps, or where can we reconfigure parts of the house to be a more functional work-from-home space.”

Of course, these are all first world issues right?

If we have a job, have a home to work from, and have our health we should be grateful.

Now all we need to do next is keep that gratitude front of mind as we work out how work-life balance will work best for us as individuals, as a workforce, and as a community moving forward.  


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