When the first lockdown started in March 2020, thousands of employees had to switch to working from home within a short period of time. Before the recent pandemic, many people working in the Higher Education (HE) sector considered home working unimaginable. Some HE managers felt concerned that home working would lead to loss of productivity, and it would be difficult to manage staff virtually.
Although HE employees experienced a range of challenges, from a lack of IT skills to redesigning teaching materials for online delivery, they adjusted quickly to virtual working environments. Staff members enjoyed working with minimal distractions and have been able to deliver more focused work. Working from home has contributed to a better work-life balance.
A survey conducted by The Policy Institute at King’s College London and King’s Business School found that 47% of London’s hybrid workers and 53% of fully remote workers feel that they can do their jobs better than they did before the pandemic. However, research conducted by the Universities of Leicester and Exeter found that home working can be ‘a double-edged sword’. Their study highlighted that although people in general enjoy a quieter working environment at home, they are also prone to increased levels of anxiety. From the universities’ point of view, home working can lead to cost savings which can be significant in economically turbulent times.
Michael Clinton, Professor of Work Psychology at King’s Business School, points out some potential risks on the horizon: ‘…while workers can maybe complete more tasks from home in a more stress-free environment, organisations allowing too much of this are probably missing out on the complex, messy and collaborative outcomes workers only achieve together in a room.’
Hybrid working is an increasing trend, providing employees with the opportunity to combine remote and face-to-face working. The Office for National Statistics found that the majority of people who started homeworking as a result of the pandemic, plan to work both from home as well as from the workplace. Dr Amanda Jones, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour at King’s Business School added that hybrid working can help people to balance their professional and personal responsibilities while being able to pursue life goals e.g. living in a preferred location.
However, hybrid working may bring some challenges to both Higher Education Organisations and employees. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, both collective and individual creativity can be negatively impacted by hybrid working:’…people can brainstorm via zoom, but programmed times and formats for generating ideas may well not prove as fruitful as the more fluid conversations…’ The National Health Service (NHS) explains that stress, lack of motivation, anxiety and uncertainty is normal for those working from home.
Regardless of whether you plan to continue working in a fully remote environment or switch to hybrid working, it is time to think about your home office as a permanent workplace. There are a number of practical steps which can help you maintain your emotional well-being and productivity
#Routine is key: Plan your day ahead. At the end of each working day, write down a to-do list for the following day. Jot down what time you plan to start and finish, and a few important tasks you plan to complete. Do make sure that you allow some flexibility in case something urgent crops up which needs your immediate attention. Do plan some physical exercise for each working day and try to vary your exercise routine. You could take a walk during your lunch break, go for a jog after work, play badminton or take a yoga class before you start your day.
#Create an inviting home office: Think about how to make your home working environment more pleasant. Make sure that you have a comfortable desk and chair. Slouching and working from the couch or bed can cause back pain, eye strain and posture problems. Do ensure that you have sufficient space for stationary. Your office should be bright, with plenty of natural light. If you do not enjoy being in your office, do try to introduce some changes.
#Regular breaks: Taking regular breaks from the screen is essential. Try not to schedule back-to-back online meetings and have sufficient time away from the screen. Do not forget to get up and walk a little as sitting for long periods of time can negatively impact your health. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help you combat fatigue and headaches, and will help you to maintain your productivity.
#Reach out: According to Forbes, the most significant concern amongst people working from home is social isolation. Hybrid working can be helpful to tackle this issue, however, some workers may still experience isolation on their home working days. Arranging face-to-face catch-up meetings with friends can help, as well as joining local cultural events and activity clubs.
#Boundaries are key: When working from home, your personal and professional life can be blurred. You may find yourself continuing to work in the evenings instead of recharging your batteries. Try to set firm boundaries for your work life and not check e-mails after you have finished for the day. It is wise not to receive work-related e-mail alerts on your personal phone.
#Time to think: If you have been working from home for a while, you might find it helpful to look at your home working environment with a new perspective. Take some time out of your schedule, and reflect on the below self-coaching questions:
- What would help me to become happier in my home office?
- What support does my university/ higher education organisation offer which I can access?
- What do I find distractive in my office and what can I do to eliminate it?
- To what extent do I enjoy home working?
- Would it be helpful for me to work more from home or more from the office/ university?
- Would I benefit from some mental health support?
- How can I incorporate more physical exercise into my home working days?
- What are some of my career aspirations for the future?
Further working from home articles:
- Remote working – a year on
- How can you be more sustainable working from home?
- Working From Home – 5 Tips to Help You Manage
- Working from home on your PhD