It’s now three years since the onset of covid. Little did we know that the stay at home order of March 2020 would herald the biggest shakeup of working routines and practices since the industrial revolution. Not even the invention of the computer or the internet had the same scale of impact on where and how we work.
What was expected to be a temporary relocation has resulted in millions of people switching commutes that may have taken hours, for a stumble along the landing and into the home office. And the longer that it has lasted, the more ingrained it has become, leading to the idea of working from home being an expectation rather than a phase. So where do we go from here…?
Working from home – the business perspective
Now that the dust has settled some businesses have decided that having a geographically disparate workforce isn’t for them and so they’re ending the work from home culture and encouraging or even demanding employees return to the office. But it’s far from straightforward.
Whilst the argument being made is that working from home has no contractual basis – most people’s place of work as specified in their contract of employment did not change – there is something of a precedent that has been set. Working from home literally affected the overwhelming majority of UK working age individuals, and yet the call to return to the office has not been as equally universal, sparking cries of inconsistency. Yes, we’ve seen high profile companies making the national news by ‘ordering’ staff back to their desks, but the situation is not consistent, even across the blue chip or corporate sector.
Company bosses are using all manner of tricks to lure employees back to the office. From anchor days – where everyone has to be in, to using the cost of living crisis as a means of leveraging staff, promoting the fact that being in the office helps reduce household bills (heating, light and refreshments) at what is an expensive time. Others are reinventing the office concept to create a wow factor and make it somewhere employees want to be. But the reality is some employees are just too comfortable at home and it appears nothing, be it contractual, exciting or money saving is going to move them.
Working from home – the employees perspective
Whilst business may have many reasons for wanting and needing their staff back in the office, the reality is working from home has become the new normal and we have witnessed a genuine revolution. As a result, staff now expect it as part of their role and if their employers push to hard, in a market with record vacancies, they may find that employees will walk – finding an alternative job that either continues to see them working from home or at the very least offers a hybrid.
Employers are perhaps not helped by the wave of industrial action underway – notably across public transport – and the cost of living crisis. Whilst fuel prices have started to drop back from their highs of 2022, the simple fact is getting to the office has become troublesome and/or increasingly expensive during the intervening period and so even the justification of reducing household bills does not stack up. Also, the focus on employee health and wellbeing has come on apace during the three years since covid and working from home is an enabler for supporting a positive work life balance.
And so we arrive at something of a loggerhead between the demands of the business and the interests of the employee, which together suggest that working from home is here to stay.