How the ‘work from home revolution’ has impacted all of our lives
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
From August 1, the government will no longer be telling people to work from home. But will that change anything?
Working from home during the pandemic has undeniably helped stop the transmission of coronavirus - but it has also had knock-on effects on all of our lives.
From the end of this week, the government will leave it up to employers to decide if workers should go back into the office.
Companies have been told that any decision they take on the matter should only be made after consulting with their employees.
It seems the vast majority of home workers have enjoyed their home working experience.
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A survey of 1,000 people conducted by Utility Bidder, a firm which sorts through energy prices for businesses, found that 69% of workers have enjoyed the change to home working.
Almost all of those asked said they are equally as productive at home as they are in the office.
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Some companies also said home working had led to a boost in sales.
Matt Moss, who runs Smart Garden Offices in Thurston, said the company had its best ever month in June.
“People are working from home, but many people are working from home on their dining room table,” he said.
“They’ve all got their kids at home. Mum and dad are trying to deal with work, childcare, home learning – all in confined spaces.
“The luxury of having an office space is suddenly becoming a necessity.
“As people have evolved into this work from home revolution, people have understood that it’s really beneficial.
“They haven’t got to waste time and money commuting. Their work life balance is better.”
However, its success will depend on the working from home trend continuing.
Yet although most office workers have adapted well to the change, it has had some very unfortunate effects.
With fewer people in town centres buying sandwiches for lunch, Pret A Manger announced at the beginning of July that it would be closing 30 stores.
Its sales fell 74% in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, even though the majority of its stores had reopened.
Pano Christou, the company’s chief executive, said: “When the coronavirus crisis hit, we said that our priority was to protect our people, our customers, and of course Pret.
“Although we were able to do that through the lockdown, thanks in particular to the government’s vital support, we cannot defy gravity and continue with the business model we had before the pandemic.”
Upper Crust also struggled with the reduced number of commuters. The majority of the bakery chain’s stores are located in railway stations or airports.
SSP, the company that owns the chain, said sales were 95% below their 2019 levels in April and May.
However, Suffolk employers have said that they would not be expecting the majority of their staff back in the office any time soon.
Suffolk County Council currently has very few staff working at Endeavour House in Ipswich and is not expecting more people in the short-term, due to the success of home working.
Willis Towers Watson said staff may gradually be welcomed back from September.
A spokesman for the company said: “We are very lucky that the majority of our colleagues have been able to work from home during the pandemic with little impact on their ability to perform their roles.
“Nevertheless, we are planning a carefully phased return to the office for colleagues in our Ipswich office.
“The date for this is still under consideration but will not be before September at the earliest.
“With proper social distancing measures in place, we will start to see the return of a limited number of colleagues where there is a particular need for those colleagues to do so.
“After that we aim to broaden it out to others but that is still likely to be a minority of colleagues in the medium term.”
This uncertainty as to when or if we will ever go back to the office is making it difficult for a lot of organisations to plan for the future.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “Many people working from home have enjoyed the experience and do not want to return to their offices full-time.
“Employers have seen the benefits of home working too, and many smaller businesses are questioning the need for office space once restrictions have completely eased.
“The AA is analysing what the future of traffic on our roads will be after lockdown should home working be more prominent, especially in relation to the school run.
“We are also studying the developing changes in high street provision, delivery trends and the increasing uptake of walking and cycling.
“All these issues will have an impact on how congested our roads could be once lockdown has fully ended.”
One thing that does seem clear though is that whatever happens on August 1, the impacts of coronavirus home working will continue to be felt.