Will working from home become the new norm?
The Prime Minister has said it is time for Britain to get back to work as the coronavirus lockdown comes to an end.
But does that mean normal service will be resumed, or will the pandemic leave a lasting legacy on the way business operates?
James Longley believes that the experience of the lockdown has changed business practices for good.
Mr Longley, managing director of Utility Bidders, believes many company directors will have been impressed with the way their staff have responded to calls to work from home, and will be in no hurry to disrupt this new way of working.
His company has commissioned a survey of UK workers, which found that 69 per cent of workers had actually enjoyed the experience of working from home, and that many bosses feared that asking them to immediately return to their offices on a full-time basis could disrupt productivity.
Mr Longley says it is likely that many bosses will choose to opt instead for a gradual return to work, where staff are based in the office on some days, and work from home on others.
The company questioned 1,000 workers about their experiences of working from home, with the vast majority saying they had a comfortable home office from which to complete tasks.
Of those questioned in the survey, 89 per cent say they are now used to working from home and feel equally or more productive compared to when they were in the official workplace.
Forty-three per cent say their own health and wellbeing improved while working from home, while 39 per cent say their time management improved.
While the majority of those questioned say they did not miss the office environment itself, 62 per cent did miss the company of their colleagues, and 45 per cent prefer the routine of spending the working day at a different location.
Tellingly, 56 per cent of respondents say the ability to work from home could be an important factor in future career choices.
The study reveals how quickly workers were able to adapt to working from home, with a massive 76 per cent saying they fully adjusted in less than one week, with a further 12 per cent saying it only took them a few weeks. Only 11 per cent of those questioned found adjusting to working from home to be a struggle.
Mr Longley says: “Company directors understand that their people have adjusted very well in general to the different requirements and disciplines of working from home and they are very grateful for that.
“On the whole workers have handled the past months with remarkable positivity and adaptability and that has allowed many companies to continue trading through what has been a very difficult time for UK businesses.
“But as lockdown begins to slowly ease many are keen to get their teams back into the office. However, there is an understanding that this will have to be done gradually with some sensitive handling.”
The study shows that many companies helped equip their staff to work form home, with 40 per cent saying their employers paid for items such as laptops to help them work effectively.
Mr Longley adds: “Teams have proven they can be trusted to work effectively from home and many workers won’t be in a great hurry to surrender their new-found freedoms and race back into the office five days a week.
“Those who face lengthy commutes may be particularly adverse to turning the clock back and returning to how things were before the lockdown began.
“Most of the company bosses we have spoken to understand this and many are planning a phased return with team members coming back on a part-time basis initially and working the rest of the time at home."
For some firms, the space requirements of social-distancing guidelines may make it difficult for all employees to return immediately, and many other businesses will be questioning whether they need quite so much office space when many of their staff are happy to work from their own homes.
"We believe this split of home and office-based work will be the way things remain for many months and perhaps years to come," says Mr Longley.
“We also believe the reduced requirement of the physical office will lead to many companies reviewing their accommodation in the future and we expect to see a trend to hub-based working with many team members based at home and just coming into the office for a couple of days a week or to attend important meetings."
Which might be good news for businesses looking to save money in the wake of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, not to mention the 69 per cent of workers who prefer to work from home. But it will be a worrying time for companies in the real-estate industry, who will be wondering how they will be able to find tenants for their empty office space.
Mr Longley says: “Covid-19 has changed many things and we believe that UK working practices will look quite different in the future.”