The past year has seen a significant increase in the amount of homeworking taking place. Before the pandemic, around 5% of those in employment worked from home, whereas during the pandemic this number increased to around 43% of workers.
Homeworking was trialled ‘en masse’ in possibly the worst set of circumstances. It took place in a time of severe social isolation where there were none of the usual levels of social balance in life, due to the social distancing and lockdown rules in place. Added to this, the schooling and nursery systems were shut down, meaning many had to balance childcare and home-schooling responsibilities alongside work, at a level they had never experienced before.
Of course, there were also psychological concerns around the virus, many were fearful, many were grieving, and many were struggling mentally whilst also suffering physically from Covid or long-Covid. More superficially, workers were often not well-equipped, broadband capabilities and necessary technological platforms were limited, and workers’ properties were not geared up for homeworking. There had been no chance for preparation at an individual, organisational nor societal level.
In many ways, people have trialled homeworking in a more than suboptimal manner. Nevertheless, employers who are starting to signal a push back to office working, or even to hybrid ways of working, are experiencing a lot of resistance from their employees.
Last week for example, Apple issued a notice to their employees saying that they must return to their desks for at least 3 days a week come September. Certain employees would need to return to office working 4 or even 5 days a week where in-person work was required. Employees were also informed that managers would need to approve any remote working requests. Apple’s management said that employees must been looking forward to reconnecting in person.
This notice was met by pushback from several of Apple’s employees, who have written to Apple’s CEO stating that there is a disconnect between management and workers. First, they pointed out that they feel better connected to their colleagues across Apple now than they have ever felt.
The employees also bemoaned the policy on the basis they have been delivering the same quality of products and services whilst working remotely, and have been better able to balance family, wellbeing and carrying out high quality work. Many were looking forward to continuing with remote working, without the daily need to return to the office. A number of Apple employees have already quit since the notice was sent out last week.
Despite experiencing homeworking in suboptimal conditions, workers across the country, much like the employees at Apple, have realised that homeworking has provided invaluable benefits too. The terrible experience of the UK commute which for many entails a significant amount of time, overcrowded transport, astronomical fares, and little emphasis on public health and comfort, has been replaced by many with healthier activities or a chance to continue working.
Other workers have realised that there was a lot of non-productive time spent in the office, and time absorbed by others. Statistics that have come in from HR software provider CIPHR have revealed that 72% of workers favour a hybrid model of working, and 73% would even take a pay cut to be able to continue working from home in some capacity going forward.
The Apple employees also pointed out that flexibility facilitates greater levels of diversity and inclusion. This is an important point for employers to note. Currently there is an untapped talent bank within the UK; many individuals have become marginalised from the job market, and have accepted certain types of work or job prospects because they have childcare or other caring responsibilities for example, and are not able to invest time to commute to, nor afford living in, areas where there are greater job opportunities.
Remote working is the key that can unlock that door. Remote working is also the key that can unlock the door of regional imbalances; there are talented individuals living in regions with no real investment and few job prospects. If companies genuinely commit to hybrid or remote working practices, they can connect with talent anywhere. Alternatively, if they are rigid in their approach, then like Apple, they risk losing the skills and experience of some talented individuals.