Market Insight

Working from home – it’s no joke!

February 10, 2021

Millions across the UK are now almost a year into working from home part time or even full time but is it becoming detrimental to our health? Partner David Thomas explores.

An Ergonomist, a Health & Safety Expert and a Psychologist walk into a bar…or maybe it was a Zoom call, talking about the long term effects of working from home hosted by Leesman.

To the uninitiated, this would be considered as unusual as your dentist insisting they come with you on your next food shop or your car mechanic suggesting they should travel with you on your next car journey to figure out what is wrong with your clutch.

At the start of Lockdown 1.0 we wrote about the fact the demise of the office was a long way off because, amongst other things, we are social animals. Some nine months on, and we are seeing the effects of Lockdown 3.0, laid bare for all to see.

Long gone is the adrenaline boost of working from home during a pandemic. The initial productivity gains borne out of the banished commute and the sense of digital presenteeism that prevailed – gone. That extra time that was gifted to employers because there was basically nothing else better to do, has disappeared. Why? Because the novelty has worn off and we are all, frankly, exhausted.

Lockdown 3.0 (or 2.5 depending on your viewpoint) has left us with reports of staff being tired, exhausted, worn out, ‘Zoom’ fatigued. Motivation, collaboration, innovation have begun to dip and those initial productivity gains have been eroded, as worn out employees stare at the same four walls then back to their screen on an incessant groundhog day loop.

And here is the rub – regardless of how great it is not to commute, or the ability to concentrate at home on deep work – in the long term, being stuck in the same environment day after day is not good for our mental or physical health.

When you dive deeply into your employee base, do you know how many live in shared houses, alone, or in an abusive relationship? How many don’t have the physical set up to work ergonomically, let alone the step count from the dining table to the fridge and back again will hardly get anyone to 10,000 steps a day.

The duty of an employer is to protect the Health & Safety of your employees, wherever they are working, and that includes those working from home. It is important to understand their physical work from home set up and ergonomics. What tasks are they doing and for how long and how often? And what, as an employer, have you put in place to keep in touch with employees who may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned?

There is talk of a lost generation of school children, but I think we need to seriously talk about the fact that so many office workers are becoming physically and socially de-conditioned by the longevity of this public health crisis.

Whilst some have been able to use their old commute time to kickstart exercise regimes, for the majority, lockdown has resulted in far less physical activity as the pressures, stresses and strains of lockdown and homeschooling take their toll.

By the time a return to the office is back on the cards, we will have had nearly 12 months of not physically meeting with people or awkwardly bumping elbows with those we do encounter, exhausting ourselves trying to stare at everybody’s facial expressions to interpret emotions. We will need to address this physical deconditioning, and almost relearn how to socially interact again.

To assist with the process of ‘reconditioning’, employers have a moral duty to improve the office environment when people return.

They need to offer their people a better experience than they had at home, with concentration space, enhanced social mixing to let ideas collide and culture to be nourished, as well as a safe space to venture out into a world of work that has been turned on its head.

If you lose the space to collaborate, you cannot expect collaboration. If you take away the place where someone is productive, you lose productivity. If you take away the space where people go to be part of your brand or tribe, you lose engagement. And, if you take away the ability of the younger generation to learn from their peers, you lose succession.

Maybe working from home is no joke after all.

So, if your office space suddenly looks less relevant and you would like advice from commercial property experts to help deliver a workplace fit for the future, get in touch.