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'New normal' or back to normal? What your colleagues really think about working from home.

Drawing on Brother's recent 'New Normal' survey, this blog looks at how the work from home changes accelerated by the pandemic have shaped people's experience and perceptions of work - specifically the pros and cons of working from home.

Despite a small handful of high-profile business leaders calling for a complete return to the physical workplace, the general consensus on post-pandemic working seems to be that hybrid working offers a healthy balance of benefits for both businesses and their people. In fact, the number of people now working from home part-time or full-time has doubled.1

But what are the reasons for this employee demand for hybrid working? We surveyed SMB professionals across Europe about their experiences of working from home before and during the pandemic to get first-hand insight into the benefits and challenges of hybrid working in the ‘new normal’.

The benefits of less commuting

44% of respondents said that the reduction in time and money spent commuting was the biggest positive impact on their work.1

Certainly, reduced levels of commuting save people several hours a week. It can also have a positive impact on people's wellbeing, given that commuting can be stressful and tiring.2

In addition to the fact that reduced levels of commuting cut the likelihood of catching infectious illnesses, recent research from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests that hundreds of additional lives may have been saved across Europe thanks to air quality improvements during Covid lockdowns.6

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Improved work-life balance

28% of respondents said that the improvement in work-life balance was one of the big pluses of working from home.1 

The same number also said that they enjoyed the lifestyle benefits of flexible working hours.1 After all, having greater discretion to organise their own working schedules gives people extra flexibility during the working day that, for example, enables them to stay on top of life admin, do the school run or even just get washing in off the line when it’s raining.2

But the benefits of working from home aren't just enjoyed by employees.

A better work-life balance is likely to increase employee engagement and loyalty, which reduces staff turnover and increases productivity and innovation.2 This is reflected in our survey, where a quarter of respondents reported an increase in their productivity.

However, while there are undoubted benefits of working from home, it also creates challenges - for both employers and employees.

What is the new normal? The blurring of work-life boundaries

One of the key issues of working remotely is that it sometimes becomes hard to distinguish between 'working from home' and 'living in the office'. An EU survey in 2020 found that 28% of those working from home were working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to 8% of office workers.3

Our survey also revealed that the nature of working and living in the same space brings its own challenges. 35% of respondents reported the blurring of boundaries between work and home life, with 36% working longer days due to 'project creep' into personal time.1

The danger here is that - if left unchecked - businesses can unwittingly run into potential occupational safety and health issues.

In January 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the Right to Disconnect - a worker’s right to disengage from work and work-related communications, such as emails, during non-work hours. Already, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Ireland are amongst those countries that have passed legislation on individuals’ right to disconnect – could we be set to follow? 

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The risk of loneliness 

The biggest challenge facing those who work from home is loneliness.4

Feeling isolated can have a serious impact on people’s emotional health, their productivity, and team performance.4 In our survey, 44% of respondents told us that the lack of interaction with colleagues and clients was the biggest negative impact of working from home.1

What is clear is that businesses must work hard to support their employees wherever possible to mitigate potentially negative impacts, including facilitating social interaction, personal development and career progression, and the onboarding of new starters.

Candidates looking for flexibility

Those yearning to go back to normal through traditional work patterns needn’t be disappointed, even though hybrid working is likely to be a permanent shift. Forward-thinking organisations are already offering a range of working contracts that include hybrid, remote and fully on-site, to cater to the job requirements and preferences of employees. Flexible working has become a major factor in people's choice of employer, with 40% of job candidates saying that flexibility is now one of their top three factors when making career decisions.5 Identifying the hybrid working technology solutions required to support your workforce is vital to ensuring that colleagues can work seamlessly when in the office, at home or on the move – and this can be a major challenge for those making IT decisions.

Making decentralised IT easier

Distributed technology fleets have introduced a number of blind spots that are likely to be keeping IT decision makers awake at night – managing and supporting devices in a multitude of locations comes with new challenges, and also makes it easy to overlook the endpoint security protocols in place in an office environment. Difficulties with monitoring costs and usage are similarly troubling when working to budgets and towards sustainable targets. 

One solution to that problem is a managed print services (MPS) programme that enables organisations to create greater uniformity and control across the equipment their people are using. The benefits of MPS do not only extend to providing the reassurance of robust network, device and document security, but also decentralised office technology with the ability to maintain visibility of costs and to remotely monitor and manage devices, wherever they’re located.

As proven experts in implementing complex, multi-location print and scan infrastructures we are uniquely positioned to guide organisations through the changing work landscape.

Find out how our hybrid working solutions can help your organisation here.


Sources
1. Brother's New Normal Survey -  November 2021: sample of 936 SMB professionals across Europe
2. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work - "Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic: risks and prevention strategies" February 2021 
3. Eurofound: "Industrial relations: Right to Disconnect in the 27 EU Member States April 2020
4. Buffer: "The 2020 State of Remote Work" / fitforworksg.com: "4 Ways to Fight the Loneliness of Working From Home)
5. BusinessNewsDaily.com: "Want Top Talent? Give Employees the Flexibility They Seek" - November 2021
6. Guardian.com: "Better air in lockdown may have saved hundreds of lives in Europe, study finds" - 26th January 2022

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