25 September 2020
If your organisation wants happy employees who enjoy a good work/life balance (WLB), don't assume that working from home (WFH) is enough. I'm part of a team of academics managing a UKRI/ESRC funded project: 'Where does work belong anymore? The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on working in the UK'. We've been analysing a survey of nearly 1,400 home workers in the UK from this summer.
Until this year, letting staff occasionally work from home was something employers were doing to attract and retain talent, and boost productivity and organisational commitment. What can the recent national lockdown which forced over 40% of the UK workforce into homeworking teach us?
While bringing the phone or laptop home is often seen as a flexible way of working, creating balance, our survey found there is a lot more organisations can do. Parents of young children are more likely to experience work/life conflict as their homes have suddenly become multi-purpose spaces where home schooling, remote work, and relaxation have been blended. Four out of 10 of our survey's respondents reported poor satisfaction, with parents of infants, toddlers, and young children of up to 10 years old reporting the lowest levels. In contrast, in terms of productivity (quantity and quality of work) the majority of respondents (60%) reported an increase.
Survey respondents using a room dedicated to work (53% of respondents) reported higher WLB alongside higher productivity. Similarly, those who share their homeworking space with family members or co-residents (33% of respondents) reported lower WLB. Productivity levels are, similarly, lower for those sharing the homeworking space.
However, the survey data shows that home crowdedness (estimated as the number of people per room) is not associated with the reported work/life balance levels. This potentially implies that having a dedicated space to work and not sharing work space are more important than how crowded a worker's home might be. So what can organisations do?
Our data shows the forms of support that can make a difference: namely, help to adjust the homeworking environment and good IT. It is notable that those who responded 'definitely yes' to the question 'My organisation provides me the necessary resources/budget to enable me to adjust my working environment to the new way of home working (e.g. buy monitor, other devices, chair, desk etc.)' reported statistically significant higher WLB and productivity levels than all other groups.
Similarly, those who responded 'definitely yes' to questions exploring whether they receive 'the necessary organisational support in terms of IT tools (file sharing, video conferencing, remote collaboration tools, professional software, etc.) to work from home' reported statistically significant higher WLB and productivity levels than all other groups.
These are important points as a significant number of workers will continue working remotely for several months to come. Many organisations are exploring hybrid or remote work models for the longer term. If you are commited to supporting your staff, the key is helping them adjust their home environment for work.
Lila Skountridaki is Lecturer in Organisation Studies at the University of Edinburgh Business School