Swapping office for home

The COVID-19 induced shift to working from home is predicted to become a lasting impact of the pandemic as employees and employers recognise its benefits, according to a new report released by the Productivity Commission.  

Future of Work Institute research fellow Caroline Knight has studied the impacts of working from home. She believes the work from home trend, now abbreviated to WFH, is here to stay.

“It will continue in some form but people are unlikely to work at home all the time,” she said.  

Her perspective is confirmed by a Back to Work whitepaper from consultancy company Meta5, which suggested the average working week will include two to three days of work from home.

New patterns of working might prove to be a silver lining of COVID-19 for some. The Meta5 research cites improved work focus and work-life balance as the top drawcards for WFH.

But flow on effects of WFH are not limited to the workplace.

“It’s going to impact the nature of work and people’s wellbeing, but also the economy more generally,” Dr Knight explained.  

Impact on business

Businesses based in city centres are tipped to be victims of the new out of office working routines.

A recent study conducted by PAR Group, an independent property research collective, found that a shift to WFH could cost $700 million in annual retail spending across Australia’s six largest capital cities.

The principal and chief problem solver at Y Research Damian Stone, who was involved with the research, explained as the daily stream of city workers lessened, city restaurants and retailers wouldsuffer.

City businesses which rely heavily on foot traffic are likely to take a hit.

The report from the Productivity Commission indicated that this will simply mean a spreading out of economic activity.

“There will be losers in the city, but it should flow through and there will be winners in the suburbs and more options close to people homes,” Mr Stone explained.

Impact on wellbeing

At the onset of the pandemic, WFH took a toll on the mental health of newcomers to remote working.

“People found it stressful at the start, but learning to adapt helped decrease stress levels,” said Dr Knight.

The Back to Work whitepaper indicated that people who worked from home felt that socialising and face to face collaboration were the most valued aspects of the office. 

“People find they are missing that social connection with colleagues. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness,” Dr Knight explained.

On the flip side, the wellbeing of employees stands to benefit from spending part of their working week at home. 

Mr Stone believes cutting what can be a stressful commute is incredibly valuable.

“You might have an extra hour to head to the gym when it’s not so busy. You might be able to pick your kids up from school and spend more time with them.”

Impact on families

WFH can also be advantageous for families, as employers become more willing to allow for a flexible work schedule.

“There is an untold positive impact on families,” Mr Stone said.

He believes that working parents especially benefit from having relationships with their school age kids that they may other with not have.

“All these things open up when you have that flexibility to choose when and where you work and the terms of your work.”

An employee who spends most of his week working from home Rynhard Kok finds that he can use the reclaimed commute time to help with more chores at home.

“The positive impact is better flexibility, but the negative is that I quite often struggle to switch off.”

Dr Knight encourages employees to set clear boundaries to avoid blurring the boundaries between home life and work life.

“It’s not one size fits all, but flexibility is the most important thing,” she said.