The COVID-19-induced lockdown offered unprecedented opportunities for UK employers to trial working from home at scale. This prompted the CIPD to conduct research into the lessons that employers can take from the period of enforced homeworking to improve their flexible working offering in the future.
This eight-month research project aimed to understand the opportunities and challenges from this period of enforced homeworking and to offer recommendations that seek to overcome these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. The full findings of the research can be found in our report Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic.
What do we hope to learn from this research?
The aim of this research is to:
- identify the opportunities and challenges presented by widespread homeworking during the COVID-19 pandemic
- explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the willingness of employers, and of line managers, to allow or encourage homeworking and other forms of flexible working.
The first phase of this research is a review of existing research on homeworking. The recommendations from this first phase are outlined below and you can also download a copy of the interim report to find out more about these preliminary recommendations.
The next stage of the research involves conducting qualitative and quantitative research with workers in different occupations and settings. The findings from this research are outlined in our report Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic.
Preliminary findings and recommendations
The first phase of this research identified eight key themes from the review of existing research on homeworking during the COVID-19 lockdown:
- Increased productivity among homeworkers is often achieved through work intensification.
- For some workers, homeworking can provide a more productive environment because there are fewer distractions.
- Knowledge sharing and team relationships often suffer – unless task-related processes are designed to take location into account.
- Innovation can suffer if knowledge sharing and team relationships deteriorate.
- Social isolation can be a problem for some workers, but this depends on personality and lifestyle.
- Avoiding the commute is a major benefit for most.
- Attention to work-life boundaries is helpful not just for homeworkers but for anyone in the digital age.
- The career downsides are real and need to be managed.
Based on these themes our preliminary recommendations for employers are to:
1. Be aware of the differences between ‘standard’ and COVID-enforced homeworking
Employers need to distinguish between homeworking experiences that are specific to the pandemic, and those lessons that can be taken forward into the post-pandemic era. The specific challenges we saw during COVID-enforced homeworking (poor planning, lack of choice, total homeworking and lack of childcare) are not as prevalent during usual homeworking arrangements (and in more usual circumstances) and while employers can learn from these challenges they should not be used to judge the effectiveness of homeworking arrangements. Instead, employers should work with employees on an individual level to understand and overcome any challenges of individual homeworking arrangements and build on any opportunities presented.
2. Homeworking is here to stay: design your working practices to suit all locations
Employers should design work processes that support both homeworkers and conventionally-sited employees, concentrating particularly on knowledge sharing, coordination of work, task-related communications and team relationships to encourage performance and innovation. Work intensification and homeworkers’ career development need to be monitored and managed.
Employers should provide support for homeworkers to manage work-home boundaries and avoid isolation, as well as making the cost-benefit calculations around the ‘hard’ elements of technology and office space.
3. Concentrate on partial, voluntary homeworking as part of designing high quality jobs
The appropriate balance of home and office work depends on the type of work, the team processes in place, the manager’s capability, and the degree of cultural support within the organisation, as well as the individual’s home circumstances and the support the employer can provide for technology and equipment.
As with any kind of flexible working – or indeed any kind of job design – a person-centred approach is most likely to result in a solution that suits the individual, the team and the organisation.
Download our interim report to learn more about our preliminary findings and recommendations.
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