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  • Rhona Jamieson

Working From Home or Living at Work?

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Home Relations – The New HR

With Covid cases rising again and the change in advice on going to the office, it seems likely that many traditional office workers will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. Indeed, a recent survey by the Institute of Directors found three-quarters of firms are likely to continue with the increase in home workers.

At first it was a novelty, with many believing it was a temporary situation, whereas now it looks set to become the long-term position. In this series of articles, Wellworking is looking at how this is forcing firms to discuss serious issues relating to safeguarding employees, developing the workforce and even employment contracts. Firms are no longer just looking after human resources, they need to take into account their colleagues’ relationships with home.

A drawing of a house on one side and an office on the other with the paper being ripped in half

In the first of these articles, we explore how private spaces and working environments are no longer separate. Firms need to now draw a clearer line between what is ‘home’ and what is ’the office’.

There are many benefits to remote working. City-centre staff don’t have a long and expensive commute. Major insurers have offered refunds on car insurance as we spend less time in our vehicles, while national rail and tube travel remains 70% down year-on-year. We are also spending less on workwear, preferring instead to stick to more casual clothes while away from the office.

However, on the flip side, utility bills for people working remotely have inevitably gone up as homes that were usually empty during the day have become occupied. The additional heating and electricity costs will only increase further as we enter the winter months. Some workers may have been forced to take out more expensive internet packages to guarantee they can stay connected to their colleagues.

Tax relief is available to cover these bills, but the rules still stipulate that it is not for people who have chosen to work from home, and it can’t be used for services like the internet that you would also use privately. In boardrooms across the country, decisions are now being taken on how these expenses can be assessed and paid to employees. Afterall, staff would have been provided with electricity, heating and other essential services while in the office.

However, it’s not just finances that need to be properly split between ‘work’ and ‘home’. Perhaps more important is the issue of time and how that is segregated. For the majority, attending a physical office used to keep work-time and home-time separate, but now there is no longer that barrier.

A living area with a sofa, desk and several chairs including an office chair

No one denies that working from home can give workers the opportunity to spend more time with their family and develop a better work-life balance. There is even the ability to do background domestic tasks while working, such as dog-sitting or laundry. The problem is that not everyone is an expert at separating the two, and this issue of work creeping ever more into our personal lives is beginning to need formally addressing as the pandemic continues.

Many have been enjoying setting their own hours to suit family life, yet some find it almost impossible to switch off from their work, and end up working longer hours than if they were in the office. Employers may need to formalise what hours their staff are working from home, as what is to stop a well-meaning colleague from contacting an employee when that person is not actually ‘at work’. Is it fair to restrict employees to a 9-5 working day when actually they may be more productive in the evening? There were fears that working from home would reduce productivity, but the pandemic seems to have proved the opposite. A recent survey by the CIPD, the professional body for those in HR, found 65% of organisations thought productivity had either improved or remained unchanged while people have been working from home.

Clearly, this unforeseen work-from-home experiment has been successful in a lot of ways, but as the novelty continues to wear off, more and more workers will be asking if they will ever get their homes back and be properly able to switch off from work. Procedures and safeguards now need to be put in place so employees’ rights, and more importantly their wellbeing, are properly protected. As we continue our series next week, we’ll be examining how staff can be safeguarded and supported as home working becomes more permanent.

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