When Dolly Parton sang about working 9 to 5 in 1980, the song reflected most employees’ regular office hours. Brian Hall looks at how things have changed in the past 40 years and asks if working from home always works?
Remote working, condensed hours, plus flexible start and finish times, are all commonplace among UK workplaces. Just 6% of UK employees now say they work a 9am to 5pm job. Flexible working has become the new normal.
Today, 31% of employees work from home at least one day a week. Smart, compact devices and faster internet connections have made working from all over the world, at any time, a possibility. Flexible working is one of the most sought-after employee benefits, as it allows employees to fit work around other responsibilities. Approximately 90% of UK workers believe that flexible working would boost their productivity, and 58% say it would improve their motivation levels.
Working from home wellbeing
There are clear benefits for employers too – we have recently changed our own working practices to be much more flexible, in line with modern working culture. With an agile and flexible workforce, employers can reduce the amount of office space required, saving on expensive overheads.
Working with global partners becomes easier, as employees can shift their working days to accommodate time differences. Offering flexible packages also provides a strong competitive edge in the battle for fresh talent. This is particularly beneficial now, when there are record levels of employment and a shortage of skilled workers.
On the surface, flexible working paints a rosy picture – a win-win for all concerned. However, there are some aspects that need particular attention from employers, as they require a carefully planned and joined-up approach. Making a success of homeworking requires more than just a smart phone and a laptop.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Isolated”, “remote” and “lonely” – how one in four home workers feel, BHSF survey, September 2018
Over the past decade, millions of pounds have been spent on designing nurturing and supportive office spaces. New furniture, such as ergonomic chairs that support the neck and back correctly, and sit-stand desks, have been introduced at great expense in an effort to keep workers healthy.
However, a BHSF survey asked home workers if their employer had given them an ergonomic assessment of any kind on their workstation at home. Worryingly, 58% said they had not.
This lack of care and attention could have serious consequences for the physical health of home workers, storing up a potential epidemic of musculoskeletal issues – 37% of the home workers we surveyed reported experiencing new back pain since working from home.
Wellbeing initiatives are often constrained by the boundaries of an office, and don’t extend to remote workers. Employers should be taking on board the ways in which their employees are working, and where from. By taking the time to assess and monitor employees’ home working arrangements, employers could prevent long-term problems and reduce absenteeism rates related to the musculoskeletal health of their remote workers.
‘Out of sight, out of mind’
Looking after your employees’ physical health is only part of the picture. Working from home can also have a significant impact on an employee’s mental health. While most home workers in our survey clearly enjoy working from home, using words like “free”, “in control” and “calm” to describe how it makes them feel, it also revealed some negative feelings. Around 25% used words like “isolated”, “remote” and “lonely”.
Working alone can be enjoyable for a limited period of time, but people by nature are social beings, and employees need to feel part of a team. It is the collaboration with others and the ability to see the impact of your efforts that really motivates people and keeps them engaged with their role and the business.
Our survey revealed that 75% of employers had made adjustments to connect home workers to the office, adopting the use of regular face-to-face meetings, video conferencing and dedicated employee benefits. However, 25% had made no changes at all, leaving their employees separated and potentially disengaged from the organisation.
Wellbeing for the modern workforce
Home working can increase employee engagement, job satisfaction and wellbeing. By considering what appropriate support and adjustments are necessary to keep up with a modern workforce, employers can reap the many benefits that flexible working brings.
Our free ergonomic best practice guides provide practical advice and guidance on keeping your home workers healthy – download your free guide.
The BHSF survey was conducted by OnePoll in September 2018 among 897 UK employees who work two or more days a week from home.