While all aspects of life have been impacted by the pandemic, one of the biggest changes has been in the nature of where people work.
While some jobs, such as construction, manufacturing or health work, are impossible from the home, the pandemic has shown that thousands of jobs across Shropshire can be done from home – and it seems there is no going back.
The long-term impact could be significant with businesses expected to downsize on office space, while the familiarity with online video meetings has demonstrated how many people can work from wherever they have an internet connection.
Monday saw the government end its 'work from home' rules, but a number of organisations seem set to continue with the pattern they have followed throughout the pandemic.
Shropshire Council has confirmed that hundreds of its workers will continue to work from home, while other businesses have spoken of the benefits of home working on their employees' productivity and state of mind.
The ability to work from home could also become a crucial feature of the job market, with many employees predicted to favour firms that offer the option to work from home.
Richard Sheehan, chief executive of Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the changes are here to stay – and that it could have a significant impact on the office space retained by firms.
He said: "I think what is very clear and has been for quite some time is the flexibility that businesses are adopting around the workplace and the working environment absolutely continues.
"Many businesses have been able to set up with their employees working from home very effectively.
"I think there is a whole review of effective office accommodation, it is not so easy if people are in manufacturing or it is a face-to-face business, but there are many roles that can be conducted from a home environment and the expectation is that will continue in the foreseeable future, and moving to a hybrid model."
He added: "The pressure on large office environments will be considerable. I think we will see people downsize office accommodation.
"A lot of businesses are happy with the work people are doing from home, they have been happy and productive and it has worked for both parties."
Mr Sheehan said that the experience of the last 16 months had shown that many roles can be carried out from anywhere.
He said: "We have to be mindful that the world of work has changed and changed permanently. Where a commute of 40 minutes or an hour was an obstacle for a lot of people now if you can work from home you can work for anyone."
Shropshire IT company PC Net is one that has moved to a hybrid model where people work in the office on a part time basis.
The firm said it had moved to a smaller office as it does not need the space – and had seen significant benefits to its approach such as reducing site costs, and for employees' wellbeing and productivity as a result.
Managing Director Katy Jones spent much of the working week alone in the office following lockdown number one, while the rest of the staff worked from home.
In early 2021 she spoke to the IT engineers about the arrangements and they confirmed that they were happy working from home, so the move towards a hybrid way of working began.
Katy said: “We decided to move to a smaller office within the same building as we did not need the same amount of space.
“We still retained plenty of workbench space to build and repair computers and our customers can continue to drop off and collect their PCs and laptops.
“We are at the same address – and continue to offer all the same services that we have always done – but the way we work as a business has changed to suit the needs of everyone. Staff will join me in the office on a part-time basis but the benefits of hybrid working mean we will work more efficiently.”
“We decided to move to hybrid working because as well as reducing site costs it enables employees' wellbeing, providing them with a greater ability to focus with fewer distractions. It saves commuting time and costs and we feel results in higher levels of motivation.”
The firm has also been supporting other businesses moving to hybrid working by working with them on the overall IT strategy and developing policies and systems to reflect it.
“When it comes to hybrid working, employers need to think about how they share information with the team and what systems they will use, internet connectivity in homes, security measures to protect data and what to do if employees at home have issues with their technology,” adds Katy.
“This is a new experience for so many of us and although there will always be trial and error, when it comes to IT and security it is much better to have everything in place and secure.”
It comes as Shropshire Council’s chief executive, Andy Begley, said they would not be changing their approach despite the government ending its 'work from home' policy on Monday.
He said: “The easing of restrictions affects people in different ways – some will welcome the news and others will be anxious.
“Our staff are no different. As a council we’re committed to supporting staff, keeping staff safe and minimising the spread of Covid-19.
“Since restrictions began to ease in the spring, while the majority of staff have continued to work from home, if there is a clear business needs or due to personal circumstances, staff have been able to work from a number of offices.
“While many people find working from home better for them, some for a variety of reasons, may not. This approach allows us to recognise there is no one size fits all for our staff
“Cases remain high in Shropshire and hospitalisations are slowly increasing, so we will not be changing this approach. We will keep measures in place in our buildings and will keep these under close review in line with government guidelines and local public health data.“We are continuing to encourage staff to work from home where they can, taking account of personal circumstances. If staff do need to visit an office, there is guidance in place to allow them to do so safely.”