Working from home, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, has shifted the conventional work routine. In light of this, new challenges have arisen which must be addressed to maintain a healthy mental and physical health among employees, while the acceptance of working from home also demands a review of employee benefits, to better reflect this new model.
The need for change
The return to working from home will not be a short-term phenomenon, indeed many want the model to remain a permanent fixture in some form. According to a YouGov poll (opens a new window) in April 2021, 57% of British workers want employers to allow working from home to continue once the pandemic is over.
A hybrid model of in office working and home working seems like a natural step for many companies, with a government study (opens a new window) demonstrating that companies and employees believed working from home allowed for an improved work-life balance, while workloads were completed more easily. Data also shows that companies planned to continue using working from home models due to reduced overhead costs, improved productivity, and improved staff wellbeing.
As working conditions begin to change, companies should consider how they can change the types of benefits they offer employees.
With more employees working from home, and the practice looking set to stay a permanent fixture in some capacity, companies should consider how benefits can help working from home.
Expenses the company offers could vary from offering to pay a certain amount for work-related equipment such as desks, chairs, and monitors. Ensuring that employees are able to work comfortably will help to ensure the correct ergonomic set up at home and reduce musculoskeletal risks and associated costs, while also helping to avoid distractions so that projects and other work does not fall behind.
A quality of life benefit could also be companies offering to pay the extra expenses employees use while working from home. This could include schemes to offer subsidies for warming homes during the winter or covering broadband expenses. Due to many people being forced to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government increased the working from home expenses allowance (opens a new window) for £4 per week to £6 per week. Ensuring employees are aware and enrolled is another avenue companies should be exploring.
2. Family planning
Another employee benefit that some companies in the UK have adopted since the COVID-19 pandemic is subsidising in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment for employees looking to start families.
In December 2021, Sky News reported (opens a new window) that energy company Centrica and law firms Cooley and Clifford Chance were among the latest companies to at least part-fund IVF treatment for employees.
Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair at Mastercard, said the initiative provides "the opportunity to offer our employees the best, the happiest, the fullest lives they can have with the view that if they have a happy and fulfilled life at home they will perform better at work, and we can retain and attract some of the best talent in the world.
This time around
With working from home set to be more common following the pandemic, there are common problems that can be addressed with fairly simple solutions:
The latest strain of COVID-19 has brought many of the same problems, and some new ones. Unlike previous strains, the latest strain is highly contagious meaning far more employees have been forced to take time off from work to recover. This increased sickness has led to major staff shortages across sectors, and put pressure on those already working from home.
With this in mind, employees working from home, who may be feeling more isolated already, may be in the position where they are taking on greater workloads in the absence of team members, creating increased stress.
In a bid to minimise this impact, employees should be made to feel comfortable that they can address any concerns of heavier workloads with line managers, and ensure that the excess work is spread evenly across a team.
2. Take regular breaks
While working from home can be more productive than being in the office, there is a tendency for employees to spend increased time in front of their screens, compared to when they are in the office. Ensuring people take a short five to ten minute break every hour will help avoid eye strain as well as keep minds fresh during the work day. Organisations could make meetings last 25 or 50 minutes, rather than the traditional 30 or 60 minutes to accommodate time away from the screen.
Using this time to make a cup of tea, go on to the balcony or into the garden, or doing a breathing exercise will help keep employees in good mental health and avoid becoming lethargic when working from home.
3. Keep up regular exercise
Keeping up regular workouts will provide employees improved physical and mental health. Many gyms offer business discounts for memberships, while some also offer free to use on-demand classes employees can use before and after work, or during a lunch break.
Lessons learned from the first extended lockdown can be utilised again with employees returning to working from home. These measures include:
1. Keeping up a commute
A useful tool that was adopted during the first lockdown was to replace daily commutes with morning and afternoon walks. Not only will a walk before and after work provide a relaxed exercise, it also allows workers to maintain the routine of going into the workplace, acting as a transition into and from a work mindset.
Alternatively, the commute time could be used for reading, exercise, listening to music, or any other activity a person finds useful.
2. Clear boundaries
Working from home carries a danger of people working for far longer than they would in the office. Having clear boundaries between work life and home life will ensure a person’s quality of life is not impacted too greatly when working from home. Effectively using the work day, and ensuring the work laptop is switched off (and ideally stowed out of sight) when the day is over will help employees avoid blurring the lines between work and personal life too much.
3. Stay connected
While working from home has many benefits, it does reduce the collaborative aspect of working in the office. While the same effect is difficult to replicate when working from home, holding weekly catchups between teams proved beneficial to many workers over the first lockdown and should be maintained when a majority of a team is working from home.
These catchups can range from a debrief on project progression, planning the week or month ahead, or even virtual events to encourage remote teambuilding.
Maintaining the social aspect of the office will help in maintaining a good quality of work life and team comradery when working from home.
If you would like to discuss the impact of working from home and the options available for employee benefits, please get in touch with your Lockton representative: