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Working From Home – Your Permanent New Office?

Since government lockdowns kicked in around the world many are getting to grips with the notion of working from home.

For some it’s nothing new, but for those involved for the first time as a result of the pandemic how has the experience been?

Good by the looks of things.

So much so, a new survey shows 83% want to continue to work remotely after the Covid-19 Crisis.

In all 7,241 people completed the online survey across a wide range of industries over a one-week period in April-May

Researchers from the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway and the Western Development Commission (WDC) found that 83% expressed an interest in continuing to work remotely. 

Over half of those surveyed (51%) had never worked remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of those who had never worked remotely, 78% would like to work remotely for some or all of the time after the crisis is over.

The survey was led by Professor Alma McCarthy, Professor Alan Ahearne and Dr Katerina Bohle-Carbonell at NUI Galway, and Tomás Ó Síocháin and Deirdre Frost at WDC. 

The top three challenges of working remotely included: Not being able to switch off from work; harder to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and co-workers; and poor physical workspace.

Unsurprisingly, the top three benefits of working remotely included: no traffic and no commute; reduced costs of going to work and commuting; and greater flexibility as to how to manage the working day.

The challenge of juggling childcare with work commitments was cited as a key issue in the open-ended comments received.

The provision of better ergonomic equipment is one of the key changes suggested by employees to help with their well-being and productivity while working remotely. 

Many also report the need for more suitable workspace within their home and just under 1-in-5 (19%) identified internet connectivity as an issue.

In relation to current levels of productivity, 37% of respondents indicated that their productivity working remotely during COVID-19 is about the same as normal and 30% report that their productivity is higher than normal.  25% report that their productivity is lower than normal and 9% of respondents indicate that it is impossible to compare productivity as the demand for products/services/business has changed.

 The majority (83%) of the 7,241 respondents indicated that they would like to work remotely after the crisis is over.  Of these:

  • 12% indicated they would like to work remotely on a daily basis
  • 42% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a week
  • 29% indicated they would like to work remotely several times a month
  • 16% indicated they do not want to continue working remotely.

The survey indicates that 87% of those surveyed across all counties in Ireland are now working remotely because of Covid-19.

Speaking about the survey, Professor Alma McCarthy said: “The findings indicate that employee preferences to continue working remotely will facilitate the opening up phase and aid with social distancing. 

‘The future of work post-COVID-19 is really interesting. What is the benefit of long commutes to work and sitting in traffic if we can leverage technology at least some of the week to do our work? 

‘Productivity does not necessarily correlate with presence in the workplace.  What we do is more important than where we do it for many roles. A mind-set change is needed by managers and employers in terms of managing work remotely. The current crisis provides an opportunity for organisations and managers to rethink how we work.” 

CEO of the Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin said: “While a significant majority (83%) want to continue working remotely to some degree post-Covid-19, the figure is higher in the West and Midlands. Just over half (51%) would like to work from their home, with the balance seeking a mix of home, a hub/work-sharing space and the office. The preference of working from home or close to home in a hub/work-sharing space will allow individuals a better balance of work and home and generate and sustain economic activity in rural and regional areas.”

Respondents suggest a number of key changes and improvements that their managers and employers should make regarding remote working at present:

  • Provision of better and more ergonomic physical workspace including provision of a good (ergonomic) chair, provision of printer, and better screens.
  • Better management of video-conference meetings
  • Reduce expectations and workload to more realistic levels
  • Regular communication and check-ins
  • Ensure provision of well-being supports
  • More flexibility in terms of hours of work to cater for caring responsibilities at this time. 

Commenting on the findings, President of Network Ireland Louisa Meehan wants employers to take note.

“The fact that 83% of respondents would like to continue remote working should be seen as a major opportunity for business and the government. While preparations are made for workplaces to re-open, significant efforts should also be made to support those who would like to continue working remotely.

‘Avoiding traffic – which is both a reduction in commuting costs and better for the environment – alongside enjoying greater flexibility are clearly attractive consequences of remote working. Policies on providing flexible childcare, adequate broadband solutions throughout the country and appropriate workspaces must be updated to reflect that.’

Louisa is the owner of Woodview HRM in Wicklow, offering tailored Human Resource solutions and Workplace Mediation Services to companies in the SME sector.

The Wicklow woman is also a part time lecturer in UCD and Smurfit Graduate School of Business in the fields of HR and Organisational Behaviour and is a trainer with IBEC.

‘The coming months represent a clear opportunity to put measures in place which will nurture a new and varied approach to the world of work and it should not be squandered” she added.

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Louisa Meehan, President of Network Ireland which has over 1,200 members in Ireland and supports the professional and personal development of women.