Talk of companies quitting their offices in favour of staff permanently working from home is premature.
Brynn Burrows, director of office leasing at Colliers International in Christchurch, says the notion is still in the honeymoon phase after the Covid-19 lockdown and the realities haven’t yet set in.
“There’s been a lot of general chat about the idea, but I don’t think that it’s been properly thought through. There are a lot of factors to consider when working from home – it was certainly a great stop gap during the lockdown but I’m not so sure about its long-term viability for many businesses.
“Some of the difficulty is around how you quantify the amount you should pay your staff working from home for things like power, data, and consumables. All those are a given in the workplace but if staff are working from home all the time, employers will need to address fair reimbursement.”
Burrows says employers will also need to remember the health and safety aspects of their staff working from home.
“A really positive trend in recent years has been tenants looking for offices that have excellent natural light, are near good amenities such as the gym or a park. Workspace design has become, quite rightly, very important. If staff are working from home, employers will need to ensure each workspace is appropriate with considerations such as desk height and style of chair, lighting, security of files and so on.”
For some people working from home may be a panacea, but for others it’s not plain sailing.
“A lot of home environments aren’t fit for purpose from a work perspective. Talk has tended to focus on the ideal scenario but what about people with children, or others who live in a flatting situation and so share their communal spaces. Many people won’t have a dedicated office area and will need to perch at their dining table, kitchen bench or in some cases work at a desk in their bedroom – if it’s big enough.”
Wellbeing and staying engaged with work are also key concerns, says Burrows.
“Being in an office generally provides the opportunity to not only socialise with your colleagues but to discuss whatever it is you’re working on. That brainstorming of ideas is really invaluable. I worry that there would be a tendency for people to feel isolated if they’re working from home – there’s no one to chat with or bounce ideas off. Zoom meetings are great when necessary, and they were invaluable during lockdown, but they can become difficult. Particularly when there’s a large group of people, it’s so easy to talk over one another. It can also be hard to read the energy and body language of the other participants.”
Loss of productivity may also become an issue over time as staff became disengaged from their workplace, says Burrows.
“This is intrinsically tied to the importance of workplace culture which is something you really can’t properly experience at home if you’re there for any length of time. It’s vital that people feel a connection with the workplace and the culture is often a reason why they work for one business over another. It’s far harder to experience that from home. I think this could lead to staff losing touch with their workplace and starting to look at other jobs.
“Any business will tell you the importance of retaining staff and the loss of productivity when having to hire and train new people. It’s expensive.”