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HCR Law Events

10 January 2021

Mind the gap: is home working bad for our health?

The lockdown-induced work-from-home revolution has given both employers and staff an insight into what life could be like in a virtual world. A better work-life balance, borderless recruitment, the elimination of commuting woes, perhaps. But it has also highlighted the risks that offset these rewards, the employer’s long-term health challenges of a hybrid home-and-office working style, and the difficulty in making sure their people mind the gap between.

In short: employers must manage risks to staff wellbeing from remote working and improve their post-Covid office workspaces, if they are to create healthy environments that entice people back into the office and in which their people will thrive and be productive.

Our research, published in our new report Future Workspaces, suggests that an increasing number of people who work from home feel that it negatively impacts on their wellbeing. Surveys conducted in 2019 prior to Covid and then repeated during the lockdown in May 2020, found that those who expressed positive impacts on their wellbeing when working at home fell from 75% to 61%.

Compounding this, respondents who said they felt home working had a negative effect on their wellbeing grew significantly, from just 3% in the first survey, to 17% when asked again this year. So, while working from home has many benefits, it is not a panacea. Even as the extraordinary pressures of home working during the pandemic begin to subside in 2021, we should be mindful that remote working requires ‘active’ management, great communication, and clear expectations.

While 2020 necessitated the largest work-from-home-experiment ever conducted, it also forced firms to re-assess their office spaces to adhere to social distancing. Re-calculating maximum numbers in meeting rooms, positioning of desks, the flow of people through communal areas; the practicalities of becoming Covid-secure required thought and, for many, a degree of cost.

Designing healthy workspaces takes on new significance today. But there are conflicts; the need to accommodate fewer employees day-to-day requires less floorspace, presenting an opportunity to reduce overheads in smaller premises. Yet hot desking, where desks are not designated to an individual, are currently discouraged in government health advice and unpopular with employees, according to our research.

Understandably, many office refurb projects were cancelled in 2020. Designing healthy and productive workspaces may have slipped down the agenda, but our long-term success depends on getting this right. In 2021, we encourage employers to take a holistic view of future workspace planning and expenditure, that integrates provision for home and corporate office requirements.

With so many upcoming challenges for workplaces, many of which employers won’t have faced before, we want to help you get them right. Our Real Estate team is on hand to assist in all matters including commercial property, lease and renovation negotiation, new employee contracts, and much more.

We would also like to give you access to the full 95-page Future Workspaces report, of which health and home working is one of many topics discussed and debated. Download your free copy here.

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About the Author
Harriet Murray Jones, Partner, Real Estate Client Partner and Head of Energy

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