Despite the many complexities of working and living through a global pandemic, we found overall people were finding it a beneficial experience.
At that time, nearly two thirds of people said that they wanted to retain some element of flexible working post COVID-19, and of those that wanted to continue to work from home more than a quarter of them expressly stated they wanted to do so for multiple days each week.
Many other surveys conducted around the same time found similar results – it’s become a regular headline in the media. The future, so it appeared, was hybrid. Employees wanted to go back to the office – just not every day of the week. From personal productivity to an escape from draining commutes, the potential benefits to employees were clear.
The data looked conclusive – but we wanted to know if, as the pandemic progressed and working from home continued longer than any of us might have expected, opinions had changed.
Were employees still loving it – or has the novelty worn off? Given the chance, would there be a rush back to the old normal (and the office)?
In November and December we repeated our survey undertaking a thematic analysis of the results. The results are in.
This time around, the percentage of respondents who talked about wanting to work from home in the future didn’t change a great deal.
What had however changed was the number of respondents who, in talking about their desire to work from home, expressly stated that they wanted to do to for several days each week.
In fact 56% of respondents, up from 27% in the first survey, talked about some form of hybrid or blended working, only going into the office occasionally or simply a straight 50/50 split.
In the second survey we also asked some additional questions about overall perceptions of homeworking and what changes, if any, people had made as a result of their extended period working from home.
Half of respondents said their perception of homeworking had improved since March 2020, with only 15% saying that they had declined. As well as changes to personal routines, a little over 10% have already invested in creating an effective home office set up from purchasing equipment to repurposing spare rooms.
Implications for HR
If further proof were required, our survey indicates that the employee desire for more homeworking is not only continuing but strengthening. The old days of only ‘working from home on a Friday’ look set to be over – assuming of course that employers are prepared to meet the demand.
The occasional day of homeworking, or even just one day a week if a manager feels so inclined to grant it, is unlikely to satisfy employees that have been working from home for nearly ten months – and who continue to find the benefits in doing so, even in the face of such challenging times.
It is now time for HR to look at new policies, clearly listen to their employee voice, and to work with people managers to create a future that works for both individuals and the organisations that they work for.
Gemma Dale is a senior HR professional, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University Business School and wellbeing and engagement manager at The University of Manchester.