After a year that will go down in the transport history books as one full of challenges and compromises, if there’s one positive to come from 2021, it’s that we’ve all learnt the importance of taking time to ourselves and putting our mental health at the forefront. A new awareness day has come to light called ‘No Interruptions Day’, which “encourages people to disconnect from the world for a little while and give themselves a much-needed break” (Holidays Calendar). Although falling on the 31st December, this notion of taking time to re-set ourselves is something that we should be mindful of throughout the year, not only on a personal level, but to help boost our productivity in the office as well.
In March 2020, the coronavirus outbreak took hold of the UK, and thus the concept of working from home suddenly became a reality for many people, with 46.6% of the UK workforce reporting that they no longer had the option of working in the office. Of those who did work from home, 86% did so as a result of COVID-19 (Officer for National Statistics). Although initially thought of as a temporary solution to the issue of lockdown, we are almost two years on, and many people are still opting to work from home rather than in the office.
Although there isn’t a ‘one answer fits all’ reason for this, there are many key factors that need to be addressed which help explain why not only a significant amount of the UK workforce is choosing to stay working remotely, but also why employers should consider upholding this option moving forward.
In an article written by Daniel Hall for BNN Times, Hall states that “with technology making it easier than ever to connect with colleagues and clients from anywhere in the world, more and more people are taking advantage of the flexibility that working remotely offers”. During the pandemic, video platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and Clubhouse became the hub for staying in touch with our co-workers and building upon skills through online workshops, which we previously may not have had the time to learn. This sudden demand is evident by the exponential growth that Zoom has seen during the pandemic, having ‘grown years in just months…At this time last year, Zoom had on average 10 million daily meeting participants. It now has 350 million…(and) was the most-downloaded iPhone and iPad app of the year… the company’s revenue is four times what it was in 2019’ (Rani Molla).
In addition, the flexibility and freedom that is offered through working from home, has promoted increased job satisfaction and productivity, with 56% in the UK reporting increased levels of happiness (Microsoft Surface Report, 2021). This new sense of autonomy and choice over one’s schedule means that employees “are not tied down by office space, it is easier for you to pick the environment that you will work best in” (Hall). This ties back in with ‘no interruptions day’, as noted in the Holidays Calendar article, the average worker will spend 11 minutes on a project before getting distracted, and it’ll take them an additional 25 minutes to get back to the point of concentration. Perhaps by offering employees choice over where they work, we will notice an increase in productivity as they are no longer prone to the distractions often present in an office.
So where does this leave us moving forward? Having adapted to this new way of working, should companies be encouraged to offer their staff the choice to work from home or the office, or should we all slowly return to our pre-pandemic normalities? In a bid to encourage a more effective work/life balance, ‘this week, around 30 British companies joined a new pilot scheme which will see them trial four-day working weeks for six months…aiming to create a “new way of working” which its founders believe will improve business productivity and the mental and physical health of employees, creating a “more sustainable work environment” (Saman Javed, Independent). Although it won’t be a while till we learn the results of this trial, Iceland deemed their four day work week an “overwhelming success” with 86% of the country’s workforce now working shorter hours’ (Javed). Perhaps a similar result in the UK might diminish the need for many people to work from home as the shortened office hours will promote higher levels of productivity and increase flexibility for those with priorities outside the office.
If anything, what No Interruptions Day and working from home has taught us is that in order for companies to be more sustainable moving forward, it is necessary to consider other methods of working besides the five days a week, in the office mould which we have all become so accustomed to. Iceland’s four-day work week tells us that longer hours don’t equate to higher productivity and that their employees happiness might well be key to their overall success. There is still a lot of trial and error yet to be done, however the UK is paving the way towards a more open-minded and efficient workforce.