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July 03,2020

by Stephanie Soh

Is working from home working?

As a freelancer, my average working week has combined in-office shifts and working from home for a few years. 

There’s a lot I could complain about when it comes to the freelance grind – the lack of job security, no employer pension or benefits, not being able to switch off from work – but being able to mix things up by working both in-office and remotely was a good perk. 

Some days, sleeping for an extra hour (or more) instead of climbing into a hot tangle of irritated bodies on the tube felt like the most beautiful of blessings, as was having the freedom to work within my own structure.

On other days, I was genuinely grateful for the familiar rhythm of small talk with colleagues, and for the kick up the backside that came with working somewhere that imposed a routine.

Then, when lockdown came, every white-collar worker who was privileged enough to be able to do their job from home, had to do so. 

Last year, the Office for National Statistics reported that only 5% of Britons worked exclusively from home – this jumped to a third during lockdown, with almost half the nation saying they had worked from home at some point in the seven days leading up to June 14. 

Businesses were initially worried that working from home would lead to a loss of productivity – that workers would be harder to manage, get distracted by childcare or try to squeeze in a bit of Netflix on company time. But many businesses actually ended up reporting productivity levels that were about the same as they had been before lockdown or, in some cases, even higher. 

Output was maintained, projects were finished early and new work was assigned. A couple of small-scale surveys revealed that around half of Britons said they were more productive now that they were forced to work from home. 

The strongest indicator of the recent success of remote working was the move by major international companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to allow their employees to remote work permanently. 

Significantly, these were the very companies that had been famous for offering all kinds of perks to keep employees happy about having to come into the office – from free meals to on-site health and dental care, hairdressers and bike repair shops, and bars with wine, beer and even kombucha on tap.

All of this went against the actions of some major companies that had previously dabbled in remote working. In the past ten years, the likes of IBM, Yahoo and Reddit all ended their work from home programmes. IBM did so in the face of falling revenue, while Yahoo and Reddit cited the benefits being in-office had for innovation and collaboration. 

So, what changed this time around? Technology, for one. Zoom, the service used for video conferencing and, of course, being a social lifeline in lockdown, has come into the fore during the pandemic, raking in a $27m profit in its first quarter this year – a huge jump compared to its profit of $198,000 a year ago. 

visuals-sW BS0OVgv0-unsplash

The use of software allowing colleagues to communicate and project manage online, such as Trello, Slack and Microsoft Teams, has also been normalised over the past few years, and it was easy to continue using these programs from home. 

And, with pretty much every white-collar worker confined to their homes, we can’t underestimate the pressure companies were under to make sure working from home actually, well, worked. 

But though the great transition to remote working has proved better than expected, that doesn’t mean it’s without its many problems. 80% of Brits feel that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a survey by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity. 

This sentiment could well be influenced by *gestures at the pandemic-stricken world outside*, but other reported issues, such as over a third of respondents saying they felt they always needed to be at their computers to respond quickly, indicate that at least part of the problem stems from remote working itself. 

Of course, white-collar workers have only been forced to work from home for a few months, since the outbreak of Covid-19 rerouted our lives. This level of sustained or boosted productivity might not be able to withstand a longer, permanent move to remote working. 

Zoom

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, has questioned his own company’s upturn in productivity, asking: ‘How long lasting is that? What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like?’ 

Then there’s the downside for workers having to bear the brunt of buying equipment such as ergonomic chairs and work tech, with many companies not offering or unable to give them a stipend. And if the gig economy is anything to go by, you can bet a fair share of businesses will continue to offload business expenses onto workers for as long as they’re able to.

Which links to another, crucial, question. If we can’t work together, how do we go about protecting our rights through the tried and tested method of organising? If we aren’t presented with informal opportunities to share our gossip and gripes, how do we learn about unequal treatment of staff, or pull together in a union effort? 

The answer to the question of whether companies should commit to remote working might lie in the results of a study of Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. For the study, a group of Ctrip employees were selected to work from home for almost two years and it was revealed that, not only had their productivity been boosted, but they took fewer sick days, shorter breaks and less time off. The company also saved money on rent for office space that the employees would have otherwise occupied. 

These were all resounding benefits for Ctrip’s management, but more than half of the employees who worked from home said they’d suffered from social isolation and wouldn’t want to remote work all of the time. This led the study’s authors to conclude that workers should be given the ability to work a few days from home, rather than being made to work from home permanently. 

As a freelance worker who had previously been enjoying the advantages of averting dismal meal deals by cooking my own lunch at home or spending that little bit too long chatting about non work-related topics in the office, I have to say that I agree! 

And I wouldn’t mind that company pension either.

July 03,2020

by Stephanie Soh

Is working from home working?

As a freelancer, my average working week has combined in-office shifts and working from home for a few years. 

There’s a lot I could complain about when it comes to the freelance grind – the lack of job security, no employer pension or benefits, not being able to switch off from work – but being able to mix things up by working both in-office and remotely was a good perk. 

Some days, sleeping for an extra hour (or more) instead of climbing into a hot tangle of irritated bodies on the tube felt like the most beautiful of blessings, as was having the freedom to work within my own structure.

On other days, I was genuinely grateful for the familiar rhythm of small talk with colleagues, and for the kick up the backside that came with working somewhere that imposed a routine.

Then, when lockdown came, every white-collar worker who was privileged enough to be able to do their job from home, had to do so. 

Last year, the Office for National Statistics reported that only 5% of Britons worked exclusively from home – this jumped to a third during lockdown, with almost half the nation saying they had worked from home at some point in the seven days leading up to June 14. 

Businesses were initially worried that working from home would lead to a loss of productivity – that workers would be harder to manage, get distracted by childcare or try to squeeze in a bit of Netflix on company time. But many businesses actually ended up reporting productivity levels that were about the same as they had been before lockdown or, in some cases, even higher. 

Output was maintained, projects were finished early and new work was assigned. A couple of small-scale surveys revealed that around half of Britons said they were more productive now that they were forced to work from home. 

The strongest indicator of the recent success of remote working was the move by major international companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to allow their employees to remote work permanently. 

Significantly, these were the very companies that had been famous for offering all kinds of perks to keep employees happy about having to come into the office – from free meals to on-site health and dental care, hairdressers and bike repair shops, and bars with wine, beer and even kombucha on tap.

All of this went against the actions of some major companies that had previously dabbled in remote working. In the past ten years, the likes of IBM, Yahoo and Reddit all ended their work from home programmes. IBM did so in the face of falling revenue, while Yahoo and Reddit cited the benefits being in-office had for innovation and collaboration. 

So, what changed this time around? Technology, for one. Zoom, the service used for video conferencing and, of course, being a social lifeline in lockdown, has come into the fore during the pandemic, raking in a $27m profit in its first quarter this year – a huge jump compared to its profit of $198,000 a year ago. 

visuals-sW BS0OVgv0-unsplash

The use of software allowing colleagues to communicate and project manage online, such as Trello, Slack and Microsoft Teams, has also been normalised over the past few years, and it was easy to continue using these programs from home. 

And, with pretty much every white-collar worker confined to their homes, we can’t underestimate the pressure companies were under to make sure working from home actually, well, worked. 

But though the great transition to remote working has proved better than expected, that doesn’t mean it’s without its many problems. 80% of Brits feel that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a survey by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity. 

This sentiment could well be influenced by *gestures at the pandemic-stricken world outside*, but other reported issues, such as over a third of respondents saying they felt they always needed to be at their computers to respond quickly, indicate that at least part of the problem stems from remote working itself. 

Of course, white-collar workers have only been forced to work from home for a few months, since the outbreak of Covid-19 rerouted our lives. This level of sustained or boosted productivity might not be able to withstand a longer, permanent move to remote working. 

Zoom

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, has questioned his own company’s upturn in productivity, asking: ‘How long lasting is that? What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like?’ 

Then there’s the downside for workers having to bear the brunt of buying equipment such as ergonomic chairs and work tech, with many companies not offering or unable to give them a stipend. And if the gig economy is anything to go by, you can bet a fair share of businesses will continue to offload business expenses onto workers for as long as they’re able to.

Which links to another, crucial, question. If we can’t work together, how do we go about protecting our rights through the tried and tested method of organising? If we aren’t presented with informal opportunities to share our gossip and gripes, how do we learn about unequal treatment of staff, or pull together in a union effort? 

The answer to the question of whether companies should commit to remote working might lie in the results of a study of Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. For the study, a group of Ctrip employees were selected to work from home for almost two years and it was revealed that, not only had their productivity been boosted, but they took fewer sick days, shorter breaks and less time off. The company also saved money on rent for office space that the employees would have otherwise occupied. 

These were all resounding benefits for Ctrip’s management, but more than half of the employees who worked from home said they’d suffered from social isolation and wouldn’t want to remote work all of the time. This led the study’s authors to conclude that workers should be given the ability to work a few days from home, rather than being made to work from home permanently. 

As a freelance worker who had previously been enjoying the advantages of averting dismal meal deals by cooking my own lunch at home or spending that little bit too long chatting about non work-related topics in the office, I have to say that I agree! 

And I wouldn’t mind that company pension either.