Are you chomping at the bit to get back into the office as lockdown eases or would you jump at the opportunity to continue working from home? Remote working during the pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped many lives and is the subject of much debate. While some companies are considering offering this option on a permanent basis, others are more sceptical about its benefits. We take a look at some of the pros and cons.

For the Employee

Emotional wellbeing:

A survey by Nuffield Health found that 80% of Brits feel that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health. For employees, remote working can lead to feelings of detachment from colleagues thanks to a lack of face-to-face meetings and social interaction. 19% of employees thought that loneliness was their biggest struggle when remote working, according to a study by BufferOf course, it is human nature to want to feel part of a community or team, and working from home makes it harder to replicate a sense of belonging as it’s more challenging to build relationships virtually. However, appropriate support can make all the difference to an employee’s emotional wellbeing –  scheduling regular meetings, for example, is one way to help employees feel more connected.

Work-life balance:

Another concern for those working remotely is maintaining a work-life balance. The Robert Walters Group states that on average, employees have been working 28 more hours per month, on average since the pandemic started. A poor-work life balance and an unhealthy overlap between work and home life can increase anxiety and stress, potentially leading to workplace burnout and illness. Many may not have a suitable, separate workspace at home, perhaps forcing them to work in their bedroom for example. Parents of young children, meanwhile, may face inevitable distractions, making it hard to distinguish between work and personal life. A study by Buffer reveals that 22% of employees admit that unplugging after work is their biggest struggle with remote working.

Despite this, there are equally those who thrive working at home; the benefit of flexible hours gives them the ability to work around and accommodate home needs. It also saves on commuter time, leaving more valuable time for family and personal interests. This arguably leads to a better work life balance, and an employee with a better-work life balance leads to higher productivity.

Technological challenges:

The shift to remote working goes hand in hand with increased use of technological communication devices. However, it is apparent that endless virtual meetings require more focus and attention than face-to-face chats. Communicating via a screen makes it harder to read people’s expressions, and an overdose may result in ‘zoom fatigue’.

Advances in technology have also brought about the new concept of ‘technostress’, particularly for those working from home. The undesirable consequences of working with computers such as, unreliable wifi connection, poor broadband speeds and security issues – things familiar to us all – foster higher levels of stress and effort. The cyber security risk of working from home may also make employees feel more vulnerable. There was a 630% increase in cloud-based attacks between January and April 2020, according to Databasix.

Nonetheless, the adoption of technology in day-to-day life has major benefits. It allows for faster communication between parties and easier access to information. There is an increased emphasis on the importance of communication and Stewart Williams, COO at VIPR describes how employees are “now communicating a lot more than before, and the whole organisation appreciates it”.

For the Employer

Better employee retention:

If you are an employer, you may face better employee retention with remote working, as its flexible nature can prove more attractive to highly skilled, prospective employees when hiring. Working remotely may also increase employee motivation, and in turn lead to less sickness absence and reduced turnover. Similarly, when hiring, an employer may be able to choose from a much wider pool of candidates because there is less need to employ someone local.

Weighing up the costs:

Remote working can be considered cost effective for managers in a number of ways. If employees are working from home, the need for office space and utilities will be reduced. According to HR News, SME’s working in London could save up to £30,120 on rent if just 20% of its employees worked remotely. In addition, there would be a reduced need for cleaning services, as well as a reduction in utility bills and furniture. But not all companies are following this trend. Martin John, Partner, JMW Solicitors, provides an opposing view about renting less office space. “Going against general expectations, we have taken more office space in London; we have continued to expand and want all those who wish to come to the office to be able to do so”. JMW Solicitors is increasing its footprint in both London and Manchester when restrictions ease to provide returning staff with the space they need. The company estimates that 90% of staff want to return to the office on a regular basis. This might not be 5 days a week and is likely to be done alongside some home working too, but the idea is to provide enough space for staff to come in when they choose.

A question of trust:

One of the main issues remote working raises for managers, is trust. Monitoring employee performance and progress can often prove more challenging, as can maintaining staff development and facilitating staff with their learning. According to a study conducted by the Havard Business Review, 40% of supervisors expressed low self-confidence and a lack of self-efficacy in their ability to manage workers remotely. Not only is it harder for managers to promote team building, but it is also harder for everyone in the business to build relationships.

Looking to the future:

Although remote working undoubtedly affects both employees and employers in different ways, there are other broader implications to be considered. For example, the option of virtual working means that staff could potentially be outsourced from abroad, providing a cheaper option for employers. The environmental impact may also be taken into account, as a reduction in travel will significantly reduce the level of carbon dioxide pollution.

But will we be working more from home in the future once the pandemic is over?

In the finance industry, some managers have expressed concerns about a permanent shift to remote working in the future, largely due to the innovative nature of this sector. CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Soloman, has stated that for him, “it’s not a new normal”, and remote working is an “aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible”.

Conversely, many other high-profile firms have highlighted that for them, remote working may in fact become the new norm. PwC, for example, has announced a new flexible working pattern, which allows employees to start work as early or as late as they like, as well as stoping work early on a Friday. The Chairman of PwC, Kevin Ellis, states how flexible working will become “the norm rather than the exception” as the company wants “our people to feel trusted and empowered”.

A similar attitude is adopted by managers with a digital business model, such as Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg has announced that “we’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale… I think we could get about half of the company working remotely permanently”.

It is fair to say that remote working has had a significant impact on most of our lives. Good or bad, it is likely that the majority of businesses will adopt a hybrid approach in the coming months where employees are likely to split their time between home and office.