The Prime Minister told Parliament this week that the work from home guidance is likely to be lifted on 21st June if infection rates don’t increase. The comments came in response to a question from a London MP who said the centre of London was suffering due to the lack of commuters.
The likelihood is, though, that there will not be a return to ‘normal’ in the next months for many office workers. A whole raft of leading employers are likely to opt for hybrid working as workers make the most of their non-commuting hours. While some may miss the daily commute, for many it has been one of the big positives of working from home as the stress of signal failures, constant over-inflation ticket price rises, overcrowding, overheating, pollution and the like has disappeared. True, other stresses may have replaced them for some and some have found it hard to adjust to a working day that lacks the transition period that the commute represents. But, rather than guilt tripping people back to town centres, there may need to be quite a bit of work done to make commuting feel like something they want to do.
Another positive of working from home has been extra sleep. Remember those days when people used to almost boast about their morning routines, getting up at 4am and heading to the gym before the commute to work? A survey this week by employee wellbeing specialist WRKIT, found that UK workers are overwhelmingly sleeping better due to not having to commute. When asked about their sleep quantity, they said they now sleep longer with no commute, that the quality of their sleep has improved and that they find it far easier to plan their nightly sleep routine.
Sleep is linked to well being and general health, of course. Absence levels have fallen over the pandemic, despite the virus. It’s not just Covid that avoiding the daily commute has reduced, but all manner of other infectious diseases. And a recent Office for National Statistics report shows that working from home during the pandemic has driven a rise in people reconnecting with nature. It showed that more than three quarters of home workers exercised outside the home in the first lockdown compared with only half of those still travelling to work and were 50% more likely to visit a park or local green space than commuters. The statistics highlight one of the key issues for flexible working proponents post-Covid – how do you ensure that the benefits of flexible working are evenly shared?
There’s likely to be a big emphasis on coming together and socialising in the next months, and, boy, have we missed that, but Covid working is not the same as remote or hybrid working and it’s important to distinguish between the two. For some a return to office working will be a relief; for some it will take a while to re-adapt; and for others it will be something they want to do less often than before, if at all. In the rush back to ‘normality’ there’s a phrase that may come back to haunt some people: be careful what you wish for.