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Working from home: a new contagion?

Angus Farr, Chair of the London Society of Chartered Accountants’ Business Board, considers what the future of work will look like in a post COVID-19 society.

May 2020

Will home working catch on after all this? I think it will, to an extent.

Although most people I’ve been meeting over screens recently are keen to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible, many have said they plan to request occasional homeworking, based on their recent positive experiences.

Flexibility is certainly nothing new and I think we’ve moved on a lot since ‘working from home’ was viewed with scepticism and even repeated back sarcastically with air quotes and a wink. Many organisations embrace flexible working as a way to attract and retain staff. It’s often mentioned as a ‘must-have’ or at least a ‘nice-to-have’ by Millennials when they’re looking for an employer. And with office rents in London being so expensive, it’s certainly been a way to reduce costs for established businesses or keep costs low for start-ups.

Technology has also come on in leaps and bounds to make home working possible. We’ve all probably enjoyed video conferences in the last few weeks with friends and colleagues who have been using the technology themselves for all of … the last few weeks. Indeed, a concern I’ve heard from some people is whether others are now judging them by their visible décor and book collection.

And yes we are, by the way!

Pre-Covid, when I asked staff about attitudes to flexible working in their offices, I got a range of responses from “it’s positively encouraged” to “it’s grudgingly permitted if you really really have to”. And when you probed the latter sentiment, it often came down to a whispered “they just don’t trust us”!

Of course, as we’ve seen recently, home working is simply not an option for many organisations. So it may be that some staff think they could work from home, but in reality, their physical presence in an office is necessary. Perhaps then this is down to poor communication from bosses rather than an inherent lack of trust.

But if there has been a trust deficit in some workplaces, I’d like to think the last couple of months have eased bosses’ concerns and shown that staff are able to perform well from home in difficult conditions.

And what a silver lining that would be to this enormous and still billowing grey cloud.

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