Covid changed the world forever in so many different ways, not least in making it acceptable to go to work in your pyjamas.
Within weeks of the first lockdown, chief executives of the world’s most conservative, listed companies were turning up for virtual board meetings having traded their hallmark Saville Row suits for Primark onesies with last night’s curry stains down the front.
For the rest of us, morning meetings on Zoom became punctuated with the routine extraneous noises of the dog biting the cat, the toaster setting off the fire alarm, the children fighting over the last of the crunchy nut cornflakes, and the title music to Homes Under the Hammer playing in the background.
It wasn’t just logistical issues that home working threw up – with younger works in flat shares often having to work in their bedrooms or even in the bathroom – it also introduced us to the possibilities of a whole new daily routine.
For many, not having to travel to work meant they could start and finish the day earlier, downing their first cocktail when the sun was still struggling to catch-up with the yard arm.
Some only realised it was time for a fundamental lifestyle reset when they woke the following morning, unable to remember the headlines from the previous day’s six o’clock news.
For employers too it was a time of monumental change, as fear about the cost and feasibility of setting up virtual communications channels, gave way to pleasant surprise at how cheap and straightforward it all was.
Before long, they were doing cartwheels down deserted city centre streets, after discovering what believed to be the secret of alchemy – having all their staff, doing the same jobs, but paying for their own office space, equipment, and energy costs.
Their gymnastic activities were halted only momentarily, to allow them to read breathless Daily Mail about how having staff work from home could actually make them more efficient, without the distraction of the water cooler to gather around, gossiping about how Gareth from accounts has a third nipple.
Moreover, it would effectively eliminate the need for HR departments. Restricting physical interaction between staff reduced the possibility of another expensive employment tribunal involving Ricky the van driver, after he turned up at the Christmas party dressed at Heinrich Himmler.
Of course, such euphoria was short-lived, as many of the unforeseen disadvantages of home working started to become apparent. For example, when it was discovered that the reason Clive from commercial had looked so focused and pensive at last week’s monthly sales meeting on Zoom, was because he had posted a screenshot of himself at his desk, looking focused and pensive, and beetled off to climb Ben Nevis.
While bringing workforces together in the same physical space might have social benefits, how much time and money is wasted with unnecessary meetings, non-work-related interaction among colleagues and human resources work generated by staff who don’t get on with each other?
Of course, there will always be a large number of functions that require feet on the ground and bums on seats – in MedTech wet chemistry functions will always require a human presence – but most business processes can now be fulfilled digitally, by properly-equipped people working in diverse locations.
But how does home working affect the workers? While not having to catch the morning bus or train and working in your pyjamas might have a superficial appeal, it doesn’t suit everyone.
Setting aside a dedicated workspace, ensuring you work to a proper routine, staying motivated, compensating for the lack of human interaction and dealing with all the distractions of home are just come of the challenges faced by home workers.
Being given the choice and opting to work remotely will suit people who find it liberating and helpful for their work-life balance. But if it’s not for you and yet your employer decides it’s the way they want to continue operating, then you a have a problem.