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‘Studies and surveys are useless when it comes to WFH ability & happiness’

Working from home might be the norm – but it doesn’t work for everyone. Personal Development Expert Christine Macdonald offers insight into how managers can work with employees to find the best fit for them…

2020 had a significant impact on work culture in the UK. As the national focus shifted rapidly, industries and sectors were forced to change their way of working virtually overnight. For many, working from home became the new normal, particularly in sectors where the move was already happening in some capacity such as tech, finance, development and marketing.

Despite some early road bumps, the move was initially hailed as a welcome success and a chance to tip the work/life balance back in the favour of the individual. A recent study found that employees have saved an average of £126 on commuting costs. Bu it isn’t just financial – Another study conducted by Microsoft in partnership YouGov suggests that 56% of surveyed workers reported an increase in their levels of happiness working from home.

By the end of 2020, it looked like working from home was definitely the #1 way to work UK employees across the country. But now a year on since measures were first introduced and the hype around work from home has calmed down, we’re starting to see a shift in employee attitudes.

A recent work from home survey of 1,214 employees across multiple industries and sectors reports that 27% of workers are “Discouraged Employees” who dislike working from home but think their employer is doing the best – 32% dislike working from home but also don’t think their company is handling the process well. In the same report, only 16% of employees said they loved working from home, while the remaining 25% believed that while working from home isn’t for them, they support their companies actions.

With so many case studies and uncertainty over whether working from home is actually a good fit, it can be difficult for business owners and managers to determine what the best course of action is.

How do you really gauge whether an employee is really enjoying working from home?

The answer is simple, according to The Hub Events co-founder Christine Macdonald, and it often gets lost in the wake of viral trends and industry sound bites – ask your employees what THEY think.

“Working from home doesn’t work for everyone. While some people love it, others often feel isolated and a bit lost. Even people with great skills can struggle to get work done effectively because their working environment at home is just not conducive to concentration.

While case studies and surveys are great to gain a general understanding of employee thoughts on working at home, they’re pretty much useless when it comes to figuring out what’s best on an individual basis. Alternatively, just because you can give them a great work at home set-up doesn’t mean they’ll be happy or productive either.

That’s why it’s so important to sit down and discuss their wants and needs. While this might take more time than a simple survey, you’ll have well rounded actionable results that reflect not only the individual but your workforce as a whole.”

Macdonald suggests using a scale or grid system as a first step towards assessing an individual’s suitability to work from home. This grid system is the same used by the team at The Hub Events not only for their internal teams but also for their clients when it comes to training and development.

Low ability – This person has a poor working environment at home. They might not have anywhere quiet and comfortable to work. Wifi could be poor. They’ll have distractions from children, pets, housemates. Their work might rely on access to people and information that is not readily available online.

Low acceptance – Working from home doesn’t appeal to this person. He/she misses the social interaction with colleagues. They might also need a lot of input or support from people to complete work and this is just more difficult when you’re not in the same space. This person also hates video calls.

High ability – This person has a good home working set up. It’s comfortable and reasonably private. They are not home schooling, or dealing with other distractions. Wifi is fast and reliable. They can access all the information and people they need online easily.

High acceptance – Working from home suits this person. They can work independently and are clear about their priorities and how to do their job. They are comfortable doing meetings online. The lack of casual social interaction doesn’t bother them, or they are able to replicate that with online chat

Macdonald adds: “When it comes to working from home, don’t let the hype impact your decision. Have a conversation with your employees to assess where they are personally and professionally – ask them about their working space, wifi, distractions and anything else that might get in the way of working well. Then ask them how enthusiastic they are about working from home, are they thriving or just about tolerating it. You might be surprised by what you find out.”

Remember, what works best for them will work best for you. Some of these issues are outside of your control as a manager, but if you have an open conversation you’ll at least know what your team members are dealing with, and you can take some action to help where possible. Make the time to ask how everyone is getting on, make positive changes where possible and everyone will benefit.”