e’ve heard over and over these past four months how working from home has changed people’s lives. If you believe the never-ending articles and blogs, we now have more freedom, a better work/life balance, can spend more time with our family, have been able to spiritually reconnect with ourselves… and we’ve also learnt a new language and baked a lot of banana bread.
Most of us in our sector, aside from perhaps those working on client construction sites or undertaking site inspections, are probably facing many more weeks, if not months, of homeworking whilst companies review the best and safest options for a full or partial return to the office. Whatever is ultimately decided, it is likely that we may never return to the office as we remember it.
In many respects, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m lucky enough to rent my own flat with access to the outside via a balcony, and with my flatmate returning home to her parents in Birmingham, I have converted the second bedroom into an office space. For many early career and emerging professionals this will feel like a huge victory – I don’t envy those living in house shares where all six occupiers are using the internet at the same time, nor those who have spent the last four months sitting at the foot of the bed with a computer on their knees.
However, more and more, I’m feeling as if I no longer work from home, but actually live at work. I frequently find myself starting at 8.00am and finishing at 7.30pm and having spent a most of the day on phone calls, Zooms and Teams, I only really start on my to-do list and deliverables at around 4.00pm. As my workplace and home have merged into one, my sleep has become disrupted because of all the things I need to get done early in the morning over breakfast before the calls start up again.
This has left me yearning for the office of old. Whether that’s arguing over the temperature which is invariably either too hot or too cold, the buzz of activity that comes with having other people around me, getting annoyed at that one colleague who is always too loud on the phone, the dodgy coffee machine that never tastes right, being forced into ad-hoc chats on a range of topics in the lift, and the winding-down of the daily commute.
While my list is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we should also remember that there are clear benefits to working in an office. For example, it is almost undeniable that collaborative working is easier in person, that many are more creative when bouncing ideas off others, and that the social aspect of is hugely important to our mental wellbeing.
I am sure that many companies will be currently re-evaluating how they work in light of the last 15 weeks or so. They will need to weigh-up the arguments. However, to my mind the issue can be reduced to this one simple question: How can we ensure our people are as healthy, happy and productive as they can be? The answer lies in giving people options – whether that’s working from home, from an office, or a mixture of the two – while understanding that the answer to that question will be different depending on who you ask.
The most forward-thinking companies will recognise this and ensure that a rounded view of the debate can be had. While many will be looking to make savings and pushing for people to work from home, they will also need to ensure they remain attractive to all employees as they emerge from the COVID-crisis.
Georgia Hughes is chair of ACE Emerging Professionals and works at Arcadis.