When a national lockdown was initially imposed on 23 March 2020 due to the unknown severity of the impending COVID-19 pandemic, everyday life as we knew it ground to an immediate halt.
All of a sudden, members of the public were ordered to stay at home, apart from essential reasons such as buying food, medical reasons, and daily exercise. Seemingly, the majority of the UK also took up running as a hobby from March – June.
All ‘non-essential businesses’ were ordered to close, which led to offices and highstreets seemingly becoming ghost towns overnight.
However, the closure of buildings wouldn’t stop the UKs workforce. During this time, business, and academic institutions, such as colleges and universities, turned their attention to the internet, allowing them to carry on working from home.
Online communication platforms saw a drastic increase in popularity during 2020, such as Zoom, whose stock price peaked at 559.09 USD in October 2020, compared to a lowly 65.05 USD just a year earlier.
Three years on from the dreaded year of 2020, life has returned to normal for the majority of us; on May 5, the World Health Organisation announced that the COVID-19 global health emergency had officially ended. Businesses that survived the economic impacts of lockdown have reopened, and workers have largely returned to their workplaces or academic institutions.
However, one of our country’s lockdown habits have lingered: working from home.
Despite encouragement to return to the office, many companies have opted to remain online. To find out why, I spoke to Jason, the manager of a contractors, who work all across Greater Manchester.
Jason stated: “Allowing employees to work from home can increase employee productivity, reduce maintenance costs (bills) for the company, and improve an employee’s work-life balance.”
During a workday, it can be a struggle to contact his team, and he can be left to wonder what they are actually with their time on the clock.
“Communication can be more challenging with a remote team, but there are many tools such as Microsoft Teams that help us communicate effectively.”
To get a better understanding as to how a business operates online, Jason allowed me to sit in on a meeting that he was holding with his team, from the comfort of his own home.
After a couple of minutes after the start time initially proposed for the meeting, the whole team was in the meeting.
Jason’s employees are scattered all across the North West, meaning that working in person leads to a lengthy commute for some.
Jason said: “Our workforce is made up of employees that live all over Greater Manchester and even further.
“Conducting remote meetings is just much more beneficial for everyone.”
I asked Jason how happy his employees are with their relatively new remote working arrangements, with him replying: “Many employees have said that they are happier working from home, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Some people thrive in an office environment, while others prefer to work from home.”
To reach a compromise, Jason established a blend of remote and in-person working.
After finding out about remote work from someone higher up in a business, I wanted to find out from someone lower down the pecking order.
Aidan, 20, is a customer service assistant, whose roles include taking calls from customers and responding to emails to help them with and issues they may have.
When asked about his working arrangements, he replied: “I love working from home because I can be comfortable while I work, and I have more control over my schedule.
“Without a manager constantly monitoring you, in quiet periods in work, I’m free to do whatever I want.
“In between responding to customer emails, I can even play on my PlayStation all day!”
With Aidan being as young as he is, the only opportunity he has been able to work in person was a part-time job. I asked him if he misses working in person, and he said: “Yes, I do miss working in person sometimes because I miss the social interaction and the separation of work and my personal life.
“I would like to return to working in person at some point, but I do think a career can be made out of remote working, but it depends on the job and industry.”
To get a perspective of a worker from somebody at a different stage of life, I contacted Richard, 46.
Richard and his wife have a six-year-old child together, which has caused their already busy schedules to become even busier.
When asked about his work arrangements, Richard said: “As a 46-year-old with a 6-year-old kid, I find working from home to be a great way to balance my work and family responsibilities.
“I start work early in the morning remotely and finish early, while my wife starts work at 10 o’clock and finishes in the evening. This allows us to be flexible with the school run, as my wife drops our little boy off at school, and I’m able to pick him up.”
Richard previously worked entirely in person before any lockdowns hit, and summed up his ideal working arrangements, saying: “I think that a blend of remote and in person working is ideal.
“It combines the luxury of working from the comfort of your own home and the social aspect of working with others in person.”
This is a common preference with many
With services such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom improving and constantly adding to their products to make use and communication easier than ever, these services look set in stone.
However, it is clear that workers do also enjoy what these online services can’t offer: the social aspects of an office.
Will remote working be able to oust the concept of offices and working in person to become the standard for workforces around the world?
Only time will tell.
By Joe Vickers