Before 2020, a small number of organisations offered remote working and the majority of employees worked in designated workplaces. Whilst 4.3% of UK employees worked from home in 2015, this number has increased to 5.1% by 2019. As a result of the recent pandemic, nearly 50% of individuals reported that they partly worked from home in April 2020. You would probably agree that remote working is here to stay.
In the last year or so, many people working in the Higher Education (HE) sector welcomed the option of working from home. We enjoyed a better work-life balance, staying in the comfort of our home office, and no longer spending long hours commuting. However, we have also encountered some difficulties.
In the following article, I will explore some of the challenges and benefits of home working, and offer some useful advice to maintain our well-being and continue being productive.
According to Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh, who works for Nottingham Trent University, loneliness and lack of face-to-face contact are key psychological issues that people struggle with. Employees need conversations such as informal coffee meetings, a catch-up by the water cooler and social events after work. Lack of physical exercise is a concern for people who work remotely. They spend an increasing amount of time sitting in front of the computer.
Professor Al-Habaibeh highlighted that ‘serious consideration should be given to the overall wellbeing of an employee’s mental health, and the potential implications of many people feeling isolated during their working hours, and how this might affect them in the medium to longer-term.’ In order for HE employees to continue working from home and maintain their physical and emotional well-being, they need to introduce more face-to-face social activities during or after working hours.
Many HE workers welcome home working because they are able to work more productively. If you have worked from home in the last year, you probably enjoyed fewer distractions. You no longer had colleagues popping into your office to ask quick questions and you were not distracted by office conversations. According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, home working can increase productivity by up to 45%. Remote working can contribute to cost savings not just for universities but also for employees. The time and financial cost of commuting can be significant and therefore many people consider home working as a perk. Based on the above study, 36% of employees would choose remote working over a pay raise.
However, remote working is not for everyone. Some employees need more frequent face-to-face contact than others. Personality differences must be considered in order to eliminate social isolation. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ concerns need to be addressed so that people do not feel that their career progression is hindered by home working. Although many people would agree that remote working is the new normal, home working practices need to be improved.
A comprehensive study by Education Support shows that the work-life balance of HE employees needs improvements. Remote working can contribute to a better work-life balance. However, staff members need to be more carefully supported based on their circumstances, preferences and strengths. Some people may need increased technical support whilst others would benefit from 1-2-1 coaching and mentoring. For others, daily catch-up meetings are essential. Some employees work best in hybrid or face-to-face environments (and not fully remote). There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Catherine works as a project manager for a small university in the Midlands. In 2021, she was offered the opportunity to work fully remotely from home. She was initially excited to switch to fully remote working. Her productivity has soared and she enjoyed the peace and quiet of her home office. After a few months, however, she started to feel differently. She missed coffee meetings, having face-to-face catch-up with colleagues, and attending networking events.
A year later, Catherine decided to approach her line manager and ask about the possibility of working both from home and the university (hybrid approach). Her line manager was very supportive and made arrangements for her to return to the office. She now works in the office for two full days and spends the rest of the week working remotely from home. As a result, Catherine can enjoy the best of both worlds. Whilst at home, she is able to deliver her work efficiently and with limited distractions. At the university, she enjoys attending face-to-face meetings with her staff. Catherine finds that physical meetings allow her to develop stronger relationships with her staff and support them more effectively.
Hybrid working is not a new concept and an increasing number of organisations embrace hybrid ways of working. According to the CIPD, nearly 80% of them allow hybrid working for employees. Their findings indicate: ‘Developing effective hybrid working arrangements can help employers attract and retain a more diverse workforce while enhancing employee wellbeing, work-life balance and productivity. They can also help employees easily and productively work from home when there are disruptions to their working day…’
- Do have a conversation with your line manager if you are struggling with fully remote working. Try to find out about if you could introduce some face-to-face elements to your working pattern (work in the university a couple of times a week).
- Do you need technical help with online platforms? Instead of struggling on your own to solve IT issues, do ask for help. Most universities have IT staff support you can approach. You could also take advantage of training courses to help with IT technical skills.
- Your mental health is important. Education Support offers free mental health support and counselling to those working in the UK Education sector. Do reach out for help or alternatively contact your GP if you are not feeling well.
- Do remember that returning to hybrid or face-to-face working has many advantages. Fully remote working for the long term is not for everyone.
- If you continue working only from home, do make sure that you have daily face-to-face social contact with others. You could participate in social events locally, take up a sport or an exciting new hobby. Regular social contact is essential to maintain your well-being.
Further working from home articles:
- How can you be more sustainable working from home?
- Working From Home – 5 Tips to Help You Manage
- How To Improve Your Zoom Teaching Game
- Working from home on your PhD