Understanding staff wellbeing and how your staff feel about working from home is critical at this time. Large numbers of the UK workforce remain either furloughed or working from home. With the latest Government messaging reinforcing working from home as a preferred option this new status quo looks set to continue into 2021.
Research published by the Office of National Statistics shows that as the pandemic continues to have a huge impact on both the location and way in which we work, there is increased anxiety. There is a need to pay more attention to the mental health of our employees, colleagues and the workforce in general.
Do you have enough information to understand your staff wellbeing and whether you could be doing more to support them? Below we share some of the common themes from our Return to Work Staff Satisfaction surveys conducted over the last few months.
Time to Read: 6 mins
Baker Stuart Return to Work Surveys - Understanding Staff Wellbeing
Staff wellbeing is essential to a happy and productive workforce. To help us understand the impact of the covid pandemic we have taken our PeopleLOOK tool – an anonymous web-based satisfaction survey approved by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) – and adapted it during the Covid-19 pandemic. We explore employees work preferences both short term, while social distancing measure are in place, and long term to assess the desire to return to the office and the likely utilisation levels.
Work Patterns Pre-Covid
It comes as no surprise to learn that 94% of respondents across our surveys were predominantly based in the office pre-Covid. One of the biggest challenges we found when implementing agile working projects in the past, was people trying to understand whether they could work from home and if they could be productive. The pandemic seems to have turned this on it’s head. We found that whilst only 65% of people had thought their role would be compatible with home working at the start of the year, an enforced new way of working has increased this figure to 95%.
Benefits of Working from Home - The Impact of Staff Wellbeing
It is clear that working from home has offered benefits. Even where challenges exist, the overwhelming majority of respondents have reported a positive impact in one way or another. A key area to bear in mind when looking at scenarios that involve continuing to work from home post pandemic are the desire to remove / reduce a commute. This has been the top benefit reported in our surveys, appealing to 89% of people – alongside an opportunity for a better work life balance (60%) and to save money (67%).
Challenges of Working from Home
That said, it is clear that there have been challenges in the last few months. 40% of respondents have reported that they have found IT issues as one of the biggest challenges whilst working from home. With a sudden almost overnbight switch to Teams / Zoom some issues were inevitable but in most instances they can be, and have been, resolved but the need for communication, training and updating of both hardware and software is clear. We have also found the issues with IT are often to do with home connectivity, not the equipment or software itself. Employers should give consideration to supporting staff in upgrading staff home Wi-Fi if they are to work from home permanently.
Other key issues with working from home relate to staff wellbeing, particularly mental health issues. A massive 93% of respondents reported that they felt isolated. Other issues included an inability to switch off when working from home affecting more than half of respondents (64%), as well suffering from a disconnect with their teams (40%). As working from home continues and the steady drift back to the office seems to have paused for now, due to increased uncertainty about a potential second wave, it is critical to address these numbers and to reduce feelings of isolation.
The Return to Work / the Office - Concerns
There have been some who have continued to work from the office throughout the pandemic, some have stated to return and for others the return to the office has been delayed. However, when those working from home were asked about their main concerns about returning to the office, 68% of respondents worried about safety during the commute and in particular the need to use public transport, this was particularly marked in cities. Although this is a major concern, once understood this can be mitigated somewhat with staggered working hours, and provision of PPE for the journey.
Additionally, once in the office people are concerned about cleanliness (37%) and the difficulty in adhering to social distancing (39%). Perception here is vital – the provision of hand sanitizer gave confidence to 74% of respondents, and 70% were encouraged at the prospect of rigorous hygiene policies. Do your teams realise the measures that you are putting in place? Good, clear communication here is vital and can support your staff wellbeing.
Return to Work / the Office - Reasons for Doing So
Tying into the challenges of isolation and feeling disconnected from the team, the main reason cited for wanting to return to the office has been the desire to collaborate, with 87% of respondents recognising the value in this. However, it must be clear to staff that that a return to the office is a return to a new normal, and not to old ways of working and ways of collaboration need to be managed to ensure that people remain Covid-secure and aren’t disappointed (see our previous blog on Collaboration Zones for ideas on how this could work for you).
Although there might be some who desire to return to how it was, we have seen 75% of respondents either unhappy or very unhappy to simply return to the same working patterns they had before Covid-19. An overwhelming majority – 89% – would like the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time post Covid. Only 4% of respondents envisage returning to the office 5 days a week, with the majority expecting 2 (42%) or 3 (20%) days to become the norm.
Interestingly, the need to return to the office to access storage / filing is of least concern – all those pieces of paper that once were absolutely vital are now lying on desks and in cabinets unloved for 6 months! But what does this mean for you? This should provide an ideal opportunity to rationalise the paperwork gathering dust (click on the link for our previous article containing interesting information around the cost of storage).
Long term effects of continued home working
Whilst we have focussed on what is happening now and understanding how people are feeling in order to help organisations to make decisions now, the longer-term views of respondents are key to helping organisations re-evaluate their future working strategy and plan for the future, post-Covid. Views mirror the general feelings shared above, but recognise that some of the challenges could be overcome, Respondents recognised that there is an opportunity for a lost sense of community within teams to be balanced by increased productivity (65%), wellbeing (71%) and work life balance (69%).
Addressing challenges now can help to provide a smooth transition to new ways of working moving forward. Interestingly, we have also recently run a series of staff workshops for several clients to explore how staff see the post-Covid world of work and we found very much a sense of realism prevailed. Although they wanted to continue to work from home for some of the week, they recognised the benefit of being in the office and collaborating with their colleagues. Further, they also accepted with the likely reduced levels of people in the office at any time might leave them “rattling around” in the space. Giving up their desks and moving to a more flexible arrangement would not only save cost and free up space for more collaborative areas but allow them to cluster with those colleagues who are in.
We are continuing to conduct our free #returntowork staff surveys with organisations to get both useful insight and data on a general multi organisation level, but also to help individual organisations who take part to develop their own specific return to work strategies based on evidence – what your people really think and want. We would be more than happy to include your organisation in the study – please contact us for further details.
About the Author: Toby Godman has been a key member of the Baker Stuart team for more than 5 years and is responsible for ensuring that the data gathered across our WorkLOOK work analytics toolkit is transformed into reports that make a difference to our clients and allow them to make evidence led decisions. When not at work Toby can be found either playing football or watching Chelsea with friends.
About Baker Stuart: We are an independent specialist consultancy providing a comprehensive range of innovative workplace strategy, workplace management and change, move management, project management and programme management services. Thinking about optimising your workplace, interested in knowing more about the #futureofwork or need help preparing your office for the #returntowork? Get in touch with us here.