Two-thirds of UK companies believe the motivation and enthusiasm of employees have suffered as a result of remote working during the Covid-19 crisis, a survey announced earlier this week. It has to be said that there are a LOT of surveys at the current time and many of them contradict each other.
What they all seem to agree on is that some element of remote working combined with some element of office working is what most people want and generally this means they want less time in the office.
The lack of motivation survey got a lot of coverage, possibly because it is going against what most of the other surveys are saying about remote working by being fairly negative and possibly because the press seems to have been very anti-remote working generally. We’ve had weeks of them following the Government’s drumbeat for a return to work, for instance, with companies being pilloried for not returning. And now, all change. In an entirely predictable turn of events, the Government is suggesting a return to homeworking now that infection rates have gone back up.
Despite the pressure, a lot of companies have been keeping their nerve and have only returned in part if at all, basing their strategy on the evidence, from employees, from risk analysis [one employer told me that they were worried about being sued if an employee became infected] and from what is generally best for the business rather than what suits politicians in the moment.
Surveys are a bit specious at the best of times, in any event. It depends very much on what the question is and whether the survey has taken into account extenuating factors. For instance, with motivation and remote working – was the question about whether staff who are remote working due to Covid are less motivated than staff who were in the office before Covid? Surely, everyone is feeling a bit less motivated at the moment with months of restrictions and worry in front of us and months of homeschooling and anxiety behind us?
It’s the same when you ask people about their experience of remote working during lockdown if they have been homeschooling or looking after very small children at the same time as working. It’s not really quite the same as homeworking in normal times when they are at school or nursery or when you can nip out and do some work in a local cafe or go into town for meetings.
As someone who has been homeworking for several years, I have to say I much prefer it to the office commute, but I can also see the attraction of a few days/hours at an office every now and again. Of course, every individual is different and what works best for one person may be the complete opposite of what works best for another and motivating remote teams requires different skills. My fear is, though, that the remote working backlash is going to strong once we have some kind of vaccine and that we need to ensure that the drive towards greater all-round flexibility does not get sacrificed along the way.