Home Working – New restrictions mean we are once again turning our backs on the office

Of all the new government guidelines that were introduced this week, there was only one that caused a real discussion in the office and that was the instruction to work from home ‘where possible’. It turns out that we are really quite split on what we believe is the optimum workplace. Around half feel that working from home brings out the best of us. Whereas the other half prefer the office environment and routine that this brings. In order to help settle the debate; we thought it would be a great idea to summarise the pros and cons of both corners and pose the question to the masses that are similarly faced with this dilemma. Once you have reviewed the points below, we’d be very interested to hear your take! I am hoping (and praying!) that the majority may finally bring an end to the matter for us!

Do you enjoy the routine of the office or the flexibility afforded by working from home?

It turns out that a lot of people really hate commuting. According to an Airtasker study, difficult commutes have caused at least 1 in 4 people to quit their job. Obviously, working from home reduces your commute to merely a matter of getting out of bed. Remote working allows for a lie in (always a win surely?), by eliminating the need to spend time travelling to the workplace. Not commuting can also save you serious amounts of money each week. Finder’s study found the average saving to be £44.78 per week. Which is around £180 per month!

So with all this in mind, surely everyone is united in preferring not to commute? Well, no. There is a lot to be said for this period as one of getting into the correct mindset for work. The journey into the office is the perfect time for mental relaxation before a hard day at work. Another key thing to consider is that not all commutes are unenjoyable! Some have the luxury to either cycle or walk in. Therefore, for this group, the commute crucially provides a period for exercise. Most modern worker’s schedules are dominated by work, making time to eat, relax etc. For this reason, the commute represents the only time available to exercise during the week. So as you can see there are some surprising benefits to a commute that make more than you would think, actually miss it if working from home! 

Are you more distracted at home or at work?

Finder has found that 75% of its survey respondents feel more productive at home due to the lack of distractions. It is true that at home you generally will be working alone and therefore can avoid all of your colleague interruptions (Business News Daily reports that the average office worker spends 66 minutes a day discussing non-work topics!). Furthermore, 60% of respondents cited annoyance at ‘general office noise’. For those that prefer to operate in silence or with their own personal playlist playing in the background, working from home can provide you with your ideal environment.

Yet, these statistics fail to take into account distractions other than those caused by colleagues. What about that smartphone sat by your side? You will have a hard time convincing anybody that without supervision you will not be more tempted to check your messages and notifications. So although you remove a major distraction in the form of other people by working outside the office, you arguably increase the influence of another to counteract it. However, the amount to which you can concentrate around your colleagues is not under your control. It is important to note that if your phone is distracting you, you can lock it in another room. The same cannot be said (some would say unfortunately) for your work colleagues!

Which environment does more to improve employee mental wellbeing?

As we are on the topic of colleague interaction it would seem most appropriate to start here. 66 minutes a day is a large of amount of time to spend talking about things other than work. Yet, many of those arguing for the office stated how important these interactions are to them. I must admit that it is very refreshing to have colleagues on hand to talk to about the football on the weekend or a film you watched recently (or even the weather!) just to help break up the day. We can only concentrate properly for 45-60 minutes at a time. Is there a better way to have that 10-minute break we need every now and again then than by engaging in conversation? Perhaps this is why amongst Finder’s respondents, 30.9% admitted to struggling with loneliness when working remotely?

Yet to counter this, in 2020 a colleague interaction is now just a click of a button away. In our prior blog on “Home working? No problem!” we explored the rapidly growing advancement in video calling platforms. Applications such as Zoom allow you to converse with your colleagues and maintain your relationships with them whilst not being in the office. Also there are certain factors besides your colleagues that can strengthen your mental wellbeing whilst you are not in the office. Most obviously, I would say getting to spend more time with your family. This is something those working long hours (especially with young children) appreciate most. Another would be the presence of your pet, should you be a pet owner. Many reports note that pets can greatly reduce anxiety and depression and ease feelings of loneliness.

How much interaction with your manager(s) is the right amount?

To start with we’ll have a look at the positives that come from having your manager over your shoulder in the office. Firstly, it is difficult to argue that new employees do not benefit more from being in the office initially. Regardless of how experienced you are, when starting at a new company you will have to learn and adjust to some extent. From recruiting in the current climate, we have encountered a few candidates with reservations about roles that require they start remotely initially. I really understand this, as it is very hard to teach employees systems and working practices without physically being there. Moreover, it is not just new employees that will sometimes struggle from home. Although established employees will encounter less problems, they will occasionally need to seek assistance. If you are not in the office, you can’t just shout a manager from across the room!

A drop in motivation?

Another perceived drawback from not working directly alongside management is a potential drop off in motivation. This will not apply to everybody, as certain people are naturally more self-motivated than others. However, generally there is evidence to suggest most people work better under direct observation. A recent study in the Harvard Business Review, found that people completing a range of different activities (from badminton to solving a maths problem) worked harder than when they undertook them alone. This is because a) you want to impress those watching and b) you feel your action is more meaningful and you are contributing more should people be watching.

Despite such evidence there are other factors that mean you could actually get more done from home. Business New Daily reports that remote workers spend 1.4 days more days working than those office based. So even if the remote worker is not working as hard all of the time (which is debatable) they are working for longer to pick up the ‘slack’ so to speak. Additionally, do you remember the stat on discussing non work-related topics from earlier? Managers are the worst culprits. They actually bring the average up by spending over 70 minutes distracting daily. From this perspective if you are working remotely you may benefit from less contact with your manager!

So, what environment works best for YOU?

So after all that, is there a definitive answer to the debate. Ultimately and rather disappointingly, no. Different types of people suit different environments. As we have seen throughout there are a number of different factors at play that help determine your preference.

Therefore rather than trying to answer an unanswerable problem, the point of this exercise was to review the different factors for and against each working environment and let you decide for yourselves!

So what works best for you and why? Maybe you love the flexibility offered by home working, that allows you to work alongside your beloved dog or cat from the sofa? Or maybe you suffer from a lack of motivation at home and miss the social aspect of the office? Or you might prefer one or the other for a completely different reason altogether? Either way we’d love to hear from you, so let us know your thoughts!

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