The long term effects of working from home

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Working from home – not changing any time soon, so we need corporate coping strategies. 

It’s been 15 months since Boris Johnson first asked us to start “working from home if you can”.  For many (but not all), this was the stuff of dreams, with people spending more time with the kids, or ticking off domestic chores in work time – plus saving all that money on travel, coffee and lunches. 

It was great. For a while. Fast forward a year and the reality is less dreamlike for many, although at the same time there seems to be mass acceptance that ‘5 days a week’ in the office could become a thing of the past. Lots of surveys have been published recently on the effects of home working on the workforce over the last 12 months, such as  The Working from Home Wellbeing Study, conducted by the University of Stirling. Its author, Professor Marks said, 

The pandemic has forced organisations to embrace home-based working at breakneck speed, with little opportunity to consider the impact on workers. Much has been made about the positive possibilities offered by WFH but there are also concerns around it, including poor work-life balance, enhanced domestic tensions, and disproportionately negative impacts on lower socio-economic groups. The current situation, which involves the whole household being based at home for unusually prolonged periods, is an unprecedented challenge that may have to be faced for the foreseeable future.’

Careful what you wish for; coping strategies for home working.

So if WFH, or flexible working (or hybrid working) is here to stay, how can we ensure it is positive for employees and not just a cost saving on office space?  

The obvious thing is to recognise both the positive and the negative impacts of home working; then we can build strategies for helping employees adjust.   It sounds almost counterintuitive to suggest we need a coping strategy for something many have been calling for for such a long time, however, the reality is that with ‘a decade of change’ having been accelerated into a year, the physical and mental effects have been quite far-reaching.  

Some of the (sometimes surprising) findings in the University of Sterling’s research include:

  • Digitally enabled home-based working is causing extensive musculoskeletal problems
  • for employees;
  • Digitally enabled homeworking can have a negative impact on mental health;
  • Digitally enabled home-based working fundamentally changes the nature of social interactions at work which has implications for cohesiveness at work and employee mental health;
  • Digital technology can never fully substitute for face-to-face interaction and there is some indication that whilst not impacting on productivity, long-term homeworking may damage creativity;
  • Digitally enabled homeworking increases work demands and strain which is exacerbated by the pace of work and frequency of ‘Zoom’ meetings; and
  • Women suffer disproportionately when working from home.

If you’re short on time but looking to improve employee wellbeing while working from home drop us a message below.

working from home workplace wellbeing

Right, so what do we do now?

Many of the outcomes we hypothesised at the start of the pandemic have turned out to be true, of course. But, in the sudden and immediate change to home working very few, if any, changes were made to wellbeing policies which reflected this move. This is understandable, not least as many companies were dealing with a tsunami of change – and of course let’s not forget that HR departments, wellbeing leads and directors all faced the same personal challenges as everyone else, so were struggling to cope themselves! 

As we return to these new-normals at work, we need to have healthy and happy employees who are able to work to their full potential.  In looking for new wellbeing initiatives, care has to be taken to accommodate both home-based and in-office employees. The key ingredients need to be focused on social connections, digital detoxing and, in very simple terms, getting away from the desk and management encouraging people to switch off from work!   

Fortunately, buddyboost is a perfect response! Throughout the pandemic we have worked with companies looking to boost their employees’ mood and to keep them both active and socially connected during the pandemic.  As we start to return to some semblance of normality we’re working with more and more companies who are aware of the negative impacts of prolonged homeworking. We’ve had huge amounts of positive feedback, with employees feeling better, feeling more connected and seeing that their employers actually care about their wellbeing.  If you’d like to learn more about buddyboost, download our latest insights below. 

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