As lockdown shows signs of a sustained downgrading and some behaviours look like they are returning to how things were in 2019, it is time to think about how things have changed and what it means for all of us.
I am particularly interested in the winners and the losers in the office. By that I mean those that will gain and those that will not. I know not everyone works in an office 9-5, but a lot do. And a great deal of those are still working at home full-time, with no plans to allow them to return until well into next year. Some are occasionally visiting the office, dipping their toes into some sense of normality. Others have remained there throughout. There are tensions and anxieties, and obvious worries. But there’s also great joy at coming back together for the first time in ages. We are relishing the human company and the sense of a real, more than an online, connection.
For me, I always worked part-time in the office before COVID-19. Typically making it into the office once or twice a week. The rest of the time was spent on the road, on the train, in clients’ offices and the occasional ‘catch my breath’ working from home day. 2020 was a huge shift for me as it stripped out all that travel and visiting the offices of others. I am basically doing office work five days a week. A mixture of online delivery and writing. To do that, I have balanced being at home with working in my office. At first on my own, and then gradually with more company as some members of the team returned from furlough or doing less working from home themselves.
This weekend, the boss of Aviva insurance (Amanda Blanc) warned women will suffer most if we all go back to the office full-time. She talked about the risks to women’s careers and how these new approaches can also help women. Anyone who has ever worked from home knows the pleasures and the pitfalls. It can be really hard – home can be a lonely place if you live on your own, or the house is empty throughout the day. And there’s lots of distractions and tasks to look after. Well-meaning friendly neighbours think they can pop in anytime for a cuppa, and then there’s all those deliveries, people at the door, builders maybe, the laundry and childcare responsibilities if you have them. It starts to sound like people working from home need a PA and a receptionist. Some of these factors are behind why women are seven times more likely to work part-time than men, there are other reasons too such as inequality and power.
Blanc revealed at the same time it is her intention to work from home for part of the week. Great. But not everyone is afforded the choice or the luxury. And that is a key message in developing these plans, we all need to make sure there is equality in opportunity, and that some colleagues aren’t put at any disadvantages. Consultation and inclusion in the planning and implementation processes will help identify the various considerations for your workforce. As ever, we need to achieve balance – supporting the needs of the business and the employee. Hopefully then, we will all appreciate it when working from home, and make the most of it when we regroup with colleagues in the workplace. We might even look forward to a commute as a special event!