There is no place like home – “Home Office Syndrome” – It’s a real thing

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The syndrome creates significant stress and uneasiness due to a blurring of boundaries between work and home life. An at-home “employee” is often never really working, never really relaxing—always constantly dividing time between the work assignment that absolutely has to get completed, frequent interruptions from spouse and children, a dog that needs walking, and the house-repair issue that suddenly arises.

It is difficult to establish a reasonable work-from-home structure and schedule, with designated time periods for work, for family, and for relaxation. A lack of routine, resulting in extended at-home working hours that mergers too easily with personal time.

Adding to the stress of home office syndrome are the unique economic and social isolation challenges posed by the current viral pandemic, including:

  • General uncertainty about the ultimate impact of COVID-19 on personal and family health, income, and short-term plans.
  • Feelings of loneliness fostered by government-ordered stay-at-home confinement and loss of social connection with colleagues at the office or with friends and other family members.

At a recent press briefing on COVID-19, the World Health Organization advised that social distancing and isolation at home posed a challenge globally to mental health and psychological well-being.

“As we return to a new normal, a hybrid model could work best, something that offers the best of both worlds. While people may enjoy eliminating the morning traffic rush or the reduced living costs, it will be equally important for them to maintain the physical, in-person interactions with people going forward from a continued growth and learning perspective”, says Joanne Bushell, MD of IWG Plc. South Africa, the largest global flexible workspace provider. (Regus and SPACES in South Africa)

“Now more than ever, employers must be more sensitive to employee needs and balance the psychological impact the year 2020 has had on their people. “If you’re a leader, on top of worrying about how your company will weather this storm, you also must care about being empathetic and supporting your employees,” Bushell adds.

She says, “Companies are more open to a hybrid scenario wherein on some days working from home will be acceptable and even encouraged as the new normal. “Covid has brought about a change in the mindset from the ‘presence-in-office’ syndrome to ‘be productive-wherever-you-are’ attitude,” she said.

Whilst the word productivity often comes up, research also shows that what remote workers gain in productivity, they often miss in harder-to-measure benefits like creativity and innovative thinking. Studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators, and that team cohesion suffers in remote work arrangements.

Remote workers also tend to take shorter breaks and fewer sick days than office-based ones, and in studies, many report finding it hard to separate their work from their home lives. That’s a good thing if you’re a boss looking to squeeze extra efficiency out of your employees, but less ideal if you’re someone trying to achieve some work-life balance.

Steve Jobs, for one, was a famous opponent of remote work, believing that Apple employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into other people, not sitting at home in front of an email inbox. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions,” Mr. Jobs said. “You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

The restructuring of society might seem frightening, but it provides the opportunity for radically new social arrangements that are not only more efficient, but also more humane.

People seem equally divided among those who wanted to return to the old way of working, and those who were content to continue working remotely. There are certainly nuances between industries and demographic factors, but even along these lines there is no overwhelming majority of workers who want to return to in-office work or remain remote.

This division has perplexed some leaders, as several companies issued bold proclamations that “remote was the new normal,” while others returned people to physical offices as quickly as possible. Like most things in life, it appears that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how and where workers will perform their activities.

Many FTSE 250 organisations have already moved to a more decentralised structure, operating with a ‘hub and spoke’ model. IWG has added half a million users to its network so far this year with a further million in the pipeline. In March IWG penned its largest ever deal, with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, for its 300,000 employees to work from any of IWG’s 3,500 workspaces globally. This followed number of similar large enterprise deals such as one with Standard Chartered for its 95,000 employees.

A recent survey done by IWG show that other businesses are likely to follow suit. Only 13% predict that their workforce will return to existing offices full-time by the end of the year. As a result, businesses are re-assessing their office space, with 38% downsizing across the board and 42% looking to either move to or invest in a shared office.

The pandemic is also causing a shift away from city centre offices with almost half (49%) of businesses considering moving to areas where their workforce typically live. IWG’s research also found that a work base closer to home is a long-term priority for workers who want to continue with the reduced commute and increased family time they experienced in 2020. In fact, 77% of employees say a place to work closer to home is a must-have for their next job move.

A hybrid model, therefore, accommodates all employees—letting those who enjoy the office keep coming in, while those who thrive while working from home, stay at home and those who enjoy both choose freely.

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