By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor
COVID-19 has caused many changes to our lives in the past six months, but as lockdown restrictions begin to ease people are now starting to look at life post-lockdown. It is fair to say life will never be the same again, but could this actually be a good thing?
With the advances of technology, working from home has been on a gradual incline throughout previous decades; 2% of people worked from home in 1981, whereas it had risen to 5% in 2019. This figure was rocketed by the news that employees were required to stay at home, increasing from 6% in January 2020 to 43% in April.
With this increase in homeworking, many assumed productivity would be affected. Researchers at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton have been looking at the effect of homeworking on productivity and have been able to conclude the effect is largely positive.
The team conducted three surveys throughout lockdown, each one including over 6000 people from across the UK. The surveys showed 41% of workers said that they felt as productive working at home in June 2020 as normal. The other 29% reported getting more done at home and the final 30% doing less. This means two out of three employees were at least as productive as normal, if not more, when working in a home environment.
Another interesting find from the surveys was that 88% of employees expressed they would like to continue some element of working from home after lockdown, with close to half (47%) electing to work from home all the time.
When looking ahead, this may mean that productivity is boosted, with those having reported an increase in productivity being the most keen to stay at home after the pandem. Universities have termed this increase the ‘selection effect’; by letting their employees choose the environment in which they work, the output is increased
Professor Alan Felstead, from the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, reflected on these findings:
“What is particularly striking is that many of those who have worked at home during lockdown would like to continue to work in this way, even when social distancing rules do not require them to. These people are among the most productive, so preventing them from choosing how they work in the future does not make economic sense. Giving employees flexibility on where they work could be extremely beneficial for companies as they attempt to recover from the impact of COVID-19.”
This finding is not only important for workers but may mark a major shift in our city landscapes; with more people working from home, businesses may no longer need large office spaces like before. Secondly, if people can do business meetings online, it may no longer be necessary to fly to different countries for a business trip.
Dr Darja Reuschke, from the University of Southampton, seconded this opinion:
“City centre high streets have been hard hit by the pandemic and are likely to remain quiet for some time to come as fewer people return to traditional places of work. However, this also provides an opportunity for us to radically rethink our city centres as multi-use places that accommodate different kinds of economic uses and are not built around fast roads that connect workplaces with residences.”
The surveys are scheduled to continue throughout 2020 to allow researchers to see the extended effect of the pandemic on work ethic. It has been suggested that this may be a short-term boost in productivity, so a longer timescale will enable researchers to observe behaviour and from this data employers can decide on their future course of action.
This research has gained a large response from the media as it has been published at the same time as the government is encouraging people to go back to the office. After reflecting on this research, it seems this may be the best course of action for some, but not for all. Instead it may be better to give employees the choice, as Professor Felstead explained.
With 9 out of 10 employees wanting to work from home it is safe to conclude that life post-COVID will look very different; commuting may be a thing of the past, and Zoom, love it or hate it, a thing of the future.
Science and Technology Holly Giles