This Topic was originally written before the global Covid pandemic that changed the way many of us work, possibly for ever. The issues surrounding work life balance and working from home (WFH) still remain pertinent today: in fact, are probably even more relevant. The topic was rewritten in the summer of 2021, from the perspective of a UK resident, just as the UK was emerging from lockdown.
During the coronavirus pandemic people with “hands on” and essential jobs such as some doctors, nurses, carers, drivers, retail workers, had to continue to work in the normal way, risking and in some cases losing their lives in the process.
Others who worked in hospitality or personal services, for example, were forced to stay closed for the duration and so were unable to work. Many of them took work as drivers, or couriers as the nation turned to online shopping and home deliveries to avoid leaving their homes.
Many people found that they could work quite effectively from home, using the internet and collaborative tools such as Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams. Call centre operatives, bank staff, many administrative, clerical and managerial staff in lots of sectors spent the entire pandemic working from home.
This caused economic devastation in city centres as workers no longer bought coffee, lunch, or daily shopping. Dry cleaners, newsagents sandwich shops, bars, restaurants and coffee shops all were suddenly empty. Trains, buses, taxis and trams stood empty. Transport schedules were cancelled or reduced.
People slowly became aware that coronavirus could be with us for a long time, and may be followed by other pandemics, and they began to consider how this would influence their collective futures.
On the upside, the effect on our environment was a considerable improvement, at a time when everyone was becoming aware that we had a limited time to change our way of life to preserve the environment
Companies began to think about the huge buildings they had now standing empty, costing fortunes in rent and business rates. Do they need to return to “normal “with everyone in the office five days a week? Or should there be a new way of working with many people only coming into the office one or two days a week, if at all?
Would a new way of working be better, safer, more productive, better for the environment, better for their staff’s health, safety and work life balance? And importantly, better for their profitability?
But on the downside of a workforce mainly working from home, what about conversations that produce creativity, informal or formal exchange of ideas and collaboration, and sharing of scientific and other research?
How do you induct and absorb new staff without physically working with them? How do they absorb the culture of their new company, and learn from senior colleagues?
Another effect of the pandemic has been that people are realising that if they don’t need to get to the office every day, they don’t need to live in tiny flats in city centres with no outside space. Instead, they are opting to move out of them to larger cheaper properties that afford them outside space, and somewhere to set up a home office. The property market has gone into overdrive with accompanying increases in property prices outside the capital, and drops in price within the capital.
The UK Government’s objective at this time was to encourage the economy back to recovery while protecting the public health as far as possible.
I think the outcome of all of this chaos will be a much more mixed way of working, with working from home (WFH) playing a much larger part in our economy. But the jury is out, we don’t yet know how this will pan out.
In this context let’s take another look at the work life balance and working from home and consider issues that will arise and may affect our decisions.