Why homeworking isn’t just a lockdown thing – Scotsman comment

Companies need to embrace the opportunities presented by the sudden surge in working from home.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned against people being 'intimidated' back to their workplace (Picture: Fraser Bremner/pool/Getty Images)

After the UK Government announced a campaign to encourage people to return to their workplace, Nicola Sturgeon warned she would oppose “any kind of narrative... seeking to almost intimidate people back to work” before it was safe to do so.

To be fair to Westminster, that’s not what they have in mind, but there is the potential for conflict if employment contracts specify a designated place of work, companies want their staff back and they are reluctant.

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Given the resurgence of coronavirus cases in various countries around the world and the dangers of a second wave, the First Minister is right to say that now is not the time for a mass return. And companies themselves will be aware of the risk of reputational damage if they demand staff return and then play host to a “super-spreader” incident.

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But it is clear that some firms would prefer staff to be in the same building and that this has some advantages – such as ease of communication and mentoring of new employees – even for businesses that do not absolutely require it.

Another factor that needs to be considered is businesses like coffee and sandwich shops that have grown up in town and city centres to cater for office staff. Many will be desperate for footfall outside their premises to increase.

Given these competing priorities – to control the disease while also continuing to enable the economy to move more freely – a phased return, which the Scottish Government is currently discussing with business leaders, seems like a sensible halfway house and clearly those companies whose need is greatest should be prioritised.

However, firms should not simply view the re-establishment of the familiar, pre-Covid ways of working as their goal. Before the lockdown just six per cent of employees worked from home, but in April this year it was 43 per cent. And we liked it – surveys of 6,000 to 7,000 people by Cardiff and Southampton University academics found nearly 90 per cent of homeworkers wanted to continue doing so at least some of the time. There are also possible advantages for companies as homeworking can cut office costs and enable them to recruit staff from far and wide, rather than a particular geographic area. As many have pointed out, Covid and the lockdown have given us a push into the future. It is almost certainly a mistake to hurry back to the past, however comforting it may seem.

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