Author: Olivia Maguire, CFA
Although working from home has lots of benefits, Olivia Maguire, CFA, Chair of CFA UK’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee writes about how not everyone is coping with it and what employers can do about it
Today’s global Covid-19 crisis has drastically refocused our minds on health and wellbeing concerns, perhaps unlike anything we’ve seen before.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the entire country was thrown into lockdown. Up and down the UK, office workers shifted to working from home (WFH) — some for the first time in their careers — turning kitchen tables, spare rooms and family laptops into a work space. Others were forced to self-shield, away from family and friends with little opportunity to alleviate their isolation through normal social activities or interactions, while frontline workers risked their lives just going to work every day.
In August, the Treasury stated that 9.6 million workers—or over one quarter of the UK workforce—were furloughed. Many others have lost their jobs as companies announced redundancy plans.
The benefits of working from home
Before the pandemic started, WFH had been a benefit enjoyed by just a few workers — particularly freelancers or those working in technology. But the lockdown has gifted that flexibility to millions, with many enjoying the lack of commute and increased time with our families.
On the positive side, being at home has removed some of the previous boundaries between work and personal lives, bringing with it a greater understanding of the efforts faced by colleagues in balancing work priorities with other personal responsibilities, such as home-schooling, caregiving or pet care. This has been highlighted by the surge in video calls, and the more authentic window we have into each other’s home lives with kids, partners and pets all featuring regularly. There is also no evidence that productivity has been impacted in a negative way, and there is a greater recognition from many employers of the importance of wellbeing and mental health, with happier teams being shown to be more productive and innovative.
Not everyone is coping working from home
But for others, the lack of distinction between work and home life, the social isolation and the increase in stress levels have many yearning for the tentative return to the office we’ve seen over the past few weeks.
Lives are just as busy post Covid-19, however, with additional pressures and constraints. Given a lack of face-to-face interaction, there is greater potential for colleagues and managers to miss subtle signs of stress and deterioration in employees’ mental wellbeing and less chance to give support to those facing challenges exacerbated by the isolation and huge changes of lifestyle.
Simple things, such as facilities at home not being to the same ergonomic standard as the office and therefore contributing to physical ailments or missing out on exercise due to reduced commutes and closed gyms, are adding to these stresses. Indeed, a recent survey found 20% of British people think their overall wellbeing is worse since lockdown.
How can employers support staff during Covid-19
Employers have responded in multi-faceted ways to the additional strains from the pandemic as they look to support staff. Increased training for managers to look for signs of exclusion or isolation, reverse mentoring programs to strengthen inclusive leadership, a focus on health and wellbeing with free private GP appointments, online work out classes to increase activity, mindfulness courses to aid workers finding it difficult to switch off or better compartmentalise work and life priorities and encouraging staff to use holidays to refresh physically and mentally.
Advice is abundant on how to protect boundaries between work and non-work time such as making time to fully step away from the computer for lunch, coffee, a walk, and to physically separate your workspace from your homespace, even if that means your new work area is in a hallway, a landing, or, for the lucky, a walk-in wardrobe.
It’s a totally new world, where employers have needed to embrace flexible working to keep staff safe and their businesses going. There have been benefits for many, while others have suffered under the new regime and can’t wait to get back to offices.
But the question on many people’s minds is whether this mass WFH can forever change the way we work. If there is a happy medium between office life and WFH where employers find ways other than physical presence and face-time to measure productivity, allowing people the space to ebb and flow while fulfilling their responsibilities to others and themselves, and most importantly, without this flexibility negatively impacting on career progression.
Or, is the current euphoria around the acceptance of WFH a temporary moment in time before we all revert to an old norm. I hope it’s the former for everyone’s health & wellbeing.
This article was written on behalf of the Inclusion and Diversity Committee. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the author’s employer or other groups or individuals.
Olivia Maguire, CFA, Chair of CFA UK Inclusion and Diversity Committee and a Global Liquidity Portfolio Manager at J.P.Morgan Asset Management.