Working from home post-lockdown: The opportunities and challenges for business leaders

As part of the government's 'roadmap to recovery', from this month businesses are no longer advised to work from home where possible and instead have been granted the discretion to make this decision themselves.

Working from home post-lockdown: The opportunities and challenges for business leaders

As part of the government’s ‘roadmap to recovery’, from this month businesses are no longer advised to work from home where possible and instead have been granted the discretion to make this decision themselves.

It’s perhaps encouraging to learn that almost half (42.5%) of UK bosses are optimistic that their business will return to normal, or even stronger, as the coronavirus restrictions continue to ease in their respective countries after months in lockdown (Vistage Confidence Index, 2020). 

The survey also revealed that 74% of employers will look to implement more flexible working policies including continued working from home after lockdown further eases. Alongside ongoing health and safety concerns due to the coronavirus, many businesses are reporting higher worker productivity, while some employees are enjoying a better work/life balance.

While remote working is not a novel approach to professional life, the increasing acceptance of working from home represents a considerable shift in attitudes. In fact, prior to lockdown only seven per cent of the UK workforce were working from home (YouGov, 2020).

Remote working: the opportunities

  • Cost savings

    Rent accounts for a high proportion of business cost – second only to wages and salaries – so, naturally, a reduced need for office space means lower fixed overheads. Reducing office space or closing premises altogether would also mean a reduction in utilities costs as well as maintenance and cleaning services.  

  • Employee wellbeing

    Many of us will be familiar with reports suggesting that workers’ sense of wellbeing is enhanced by having control over how and where they work. Allowing employees to work from home can lead to health improvements thanks to lower stress levels and people simply being around less circulating germs and illnesses.   

  • Productivity

    In terms of environment, you and your team may find that working in a quieter space with fewer distractions and unnecessary meetings leads, in turn, to increased productivity and/or less stress and pressure. Reducing the need to commute should also improve energy and stress levels with your team having more hours in the day to do what makes them happy.   

  • Increased staff retention and pool of talent

    Allowing employees to work from home can also improve employee retention. For working parents or those with caring responsibilities, having more control and flexibility over the working day can provide significant benefits, both financially and personally. Showing that you trust your team to work independently and that you care about their happiness goes a long way. Offering the choice of working remotely is also likely to be very attractive to future employees. 

Remote working: the challenges  

Naturally, there are challenges to both business leaders and workers when shifting to new ways of working. 

  • Maintaining work/life balance

    Over time, the boundaries between home and work life may become blurred and negate the positive effects on wellbeing and productivity. For starters, not everyone is suited to working remotely. Employees who thrive on face-to-face interaction with others, or whose homelife may not be conducive to working remotely, could struggle. This could result in poor wellbeing or mental health issues which may slip under the radar for managers and colleagues who aren’t able to notice changes in their own or others demeanour or attitude that would have been more easily picked up in the office.

  • Employee engagement

    Business leaders and managers may find it’s more difficult to communicate with multiple teams or track staff progress and activity or manage calendars and meetings. While working from home might suit experienced workers, newer recruits may struggle. Leaders should think carefully about how they will support workers who do not have a home office or suitable place to work ‘ for instance, younger people in shared accommodation may find it challenging working from home.   

  • Company culture

    Creating and maintaining a sense of corporate identity and belonging is vital for business success and a happy workforce. This challenge can be tackled in numerous ways. For example, you could balance working remotely with regular team meetings or events. Or create ways for staff to meet together online, such as virtual coffee mornings. In addition to progress and performance updates, staff should have regular check-ins with managers, whether in person or remotely, to see how they are doing and generally catch up. But perhaps the most important issue here is for business leaders to promote a trusting work culture, where the whole team understands the importance of honouring their responsibilities.  

  • Tech infrastructure

    Ultimately, it is the business leader’s responsibility to make sure all staff have access to the right technology and tools to do their job, safely and comfortably – everything that you would expect to supply in the office. This includes all necessary computer hardware, access to workload applications, internet connection, phone, display screen equipment and anything else the employee needs for their specific role. The investment in technology may prove prohibitive for some SMEs particularly at this time. Such decisions must be considered in the context of cashflow. 

The return to normal is still some way off for the vast majority of businesses. However, remote working undoubtedly offers potential benefits to both employees and employers and it is no surprise that a number of large employers, such as Twitter and Facebook, have offered their staff the opportunity to do so for the foreseeable future. But realising those benefits requires careful management, if employees are to remain engaged with their work and continue to develop the relationships that knit teams together. 

There is no set recipe for a successful work from home policy, and it comes with its own specific challenges to consider when it comes to leadership. At this pivotal time business leaders need to make an effort to evaluate whether continuing to work from home, or the return to work is the right course of action. The best way to make that decision is by listening to employees and letting the consensus form the basis of any next steps. Placing employee opinion in regard to health and safety should be at the forefront of any decision. 

With such a significant shift in a business model, leaders can undoubtedly benefit from confidential and knowledgeable advice when it comes to making the types of decision that are involved.

Geoff Lawrence
Geoff Lawrence

Share via
Copy link