A Brief Look at the Impacts of COVID-19 on Remote Working

It’s not been a great start to the new year – let alone the new decade. With fear, panic, worry, uncertainty and a range of other emotions – that when combined fashion a cocktail of instability with no end on the horizon – it is tremendously difficult to think positively. We are human beings that are governed by our emotions. Avoiding the road of subjectivity by instead advancing towards objectivity is harder when things are closer to home than normal.

During the current pandemic, life pretty much stops for those with jobs that aren’t primarily office based. Aside from key workers, the occasional one hour permitted workout or the infrequent visit to the shops for food, the majority of people will be house ridden for the next few months. Life for those who are normally office based however hasn’t necessarily stopped, but changed.

Those who can work from home have been encouraged to do so. For some people, working from home won’t be much of a problem as they may have already somewhat done it before. However, for the majority of people who have had to venture into new ground, they may have some problems adapting. For those individuals it’s a brand-new environment that completely goes against the grain of the sentiment “you should never bring your work home with you”. On top of the challenge of trying to find physical space to comfortably call your workplace, it is also a mental challenge of having to carry on with business as normal with the additional task of doing so in a full house (for those who have families). Separating work from home is now made harder since they both co-exist in the same environment.

However, there may be – no matter how hard it is to see right now – some hope for us after all, at least I think so. Yes, people are forced to work from home in environments that they wouldn’t normally choose, and yes people will find it hard because they are locked down inside the same four walls they have been staring at for weeks on end. However, for a second, just think of all of the side effects that has occurred since this nationwide lockdown started. Less pollution, less money spent on commuting, less strain on public/private transport and less congestion, to think of a few.

Working from home has been a reoccurring topic and objective for a lot of companies around the world. The studies that have been done on this don’t seem to differ wildly from each other. There are studies that show that people feel they are more productive when working remotely. I mean, I’m not going to name all of the benefits and advantages of working from home as I believe that has been covered exhaustively throughout the years and a quick Google would prove that. I’m more interested in what impact COVID-19 has had with regard to remote working.

Currently, if you were to ask all of the people who are working from home in the UK during the present pandemic, there would without a doubt be a mixed bag of emotions. Ranging from anger to delight, there are going to be a lot of opinions on its impact to their lives. I would even confidently say that over the next few months (as at this point that is the most likely time frame) those opinions will either change or be amplified. However, it’s important that we recognise the current landscape and not let it influence the results. Currently one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen online from those who have never worked from home before that are currently going through their first experience is, “I feel completely locked into work and restricted”. Now the important question here is that, is this an effect of remote working or is it an effect from the lockdown, or both? I do lend support to the argument that it is harder to switch off work as I myself have been programming away for hours not realising that it’s 9pm, so the point is definitely valid. However, I do feel that the locked in feeling is more to do with the lockdown we are currently under as opposed to being a bi-product of remote working. I do understand however, that people may disagree on this – and they are welcome to.

Now to get back onto the tracks a bit, COVID-19 itself has forced many companies to encourage their employees to work from home if they can. This has meant that the company may have had to invest in hardware and software infrastructure to support this paradigm. However, for many companies you could argue it’s not a bad deal since it’s either that or they shut down until this all blows over. Which could be suicide for many businesses as the money lost would completely decimate the business. The fact that they have now invested in the infrastructure that allows remote working, I speculate – and it is a speculation – that when this all blows over, they may change their policies around remote working. I feel that for a lot of companies they actually may look at this as an opportunity. An opportunity to increase flexibility for their employees which is always a good thing, a chance to cut costs of renting large office spaces and even the prospect of being able to hire from anywhere in the UK (or world if it’s international). I have always felt that most companies know the benefits of remote working but some have been scared to take the leap.

For years, many companies – that would actually benefit from a remote working model in many ways – have completely rejected the idea. Reasons always vary but a key one that is citied quite frequently is the cost of setting up the infrastructure with the additional cost of the disruption to the business. Yet, the current pandemic has forced their hands. It has made them invest in this infrastructure anyways, so I will be very interested to see if companies’ opinions change or stay the same on remote working after this is all over. Will they change their minds? Will they go back to normal? Or would it be too much of a disruption to the status quo to mandate everyone to come back to the office as normal. Something tells me that COVID-19 will be seminal to the future of working. I just cannot believe that both companies and employees will ignore all of the advantages of working from home and just go back to work as normal. I mean sure, they may love getting to talk to their colleagues again, but what was stopping them from doing that anyways? Surely, they would have invested in communication tools like MS Teams, or Skype? It’s not the same as turning to your left and having a chat, I agree there, but is that really worth sacrificing the flexibility you once had? It certainly will be interesting to see. Even if it becomes more of a hybrid between home/office working.

For the last year or so, I have been talking about this idea of the government incentivising working from home. Offering companies tax benefits (or some other method that’s mutually beneficial) for filling positions with remote workers – nationally, not internationally. The benefits to this are massive. They can be enjoyed by all parties and also indirectly from the rest of the population. I will in future write another blog post about this as it itself is quite an interesting idea but as far as COVID-19 is concerned I think it’s definitely going to be a turning point in a lot of peoples lives with regard to how they want to work.

Until then, there isn’t much we can do but to make the best out of a bad situation and hold on. So, on that note, take care.