When the coronavirus descended upon us in March 2020, the future was certainly unclear. There was an echo of shock and fear around the Island on that dreaded day when businesses were told that they were no longer permitted to operate as normal, which for many meant setting up their staff to work from home. Each week, business owners and employees would wait in utter anticipation to hear the Government coronavirus briefing, seeking some sort of clarity concerning when they would be able to return to the office and normality. Finally, after months of perseverance as an Island and following the government guidelines, businesses were able to return to their offices and resume their work as usual.
The fact that so many businesses were able to introduce working from home so successfully has made them consider if working from home going forward isn’t something that can be introduced in the longer term. However, both positive and negative aspects of working from home were encountered both by staff and the day-to-day business operations and these have had to be taken into account as the island returned to normality.
Initially, staff who were asked to work from home may have enjoyed the novelty of waking up, wandering down to the kitchen for some breakfast and then slowly making their way to their computer to start their day. However, for some the novelty wore off swiftly and soon caused them to feel a degree of isolation from their colleagues. The lack of physical interaction was detrimental for some, particularly those who suffer with their mental health. For many, technology just wasn’t a substitute for nipping to your colleague’s desk to ask them a question, rather than trawling through endless emails or waiting for a response before you are able to continue working on your daily tasks. Other issues were felt too as staff felt additional pressure during this period to make sure that their superiors were aware that they were still being productive, and others were clearly worried that they might be facing redundancy. One issue that many experienced was that it became extremely difficult to separate their working environment from their home life, as there was no physical separation between to the two.
Despite the negative aspects, most people found that these were far outweighed by the positives, and in fact some people found it more challenging to return to the office environment after lockdown. They missed the flexibility of the home working environment, being able to spend more time with their families, avoiding time wasted on the commute to and from the office, finding parking, and the distractions of being in a busy office. Others also felt extremely anxious about the possible health risks associated with being back in close proximity with work colleagues using shared facilities.
Taking all this into account, many local businesses have decided to introduce more formal working from home policies where, for example, depending on the specific role and duties involved, staff are able to split their time between home and office as long as this is agreed in advance or an acceptable business case is made. This might be done on a regular basis, or just sporadically. Some larger organisations with offices in other jurisdictions, have had to adopt office policies dictated by the business needs worldwide, not just Guernsey, and to be consistent with their colleagues, so have still staggered their return to office working, allowing staff to work from home and perhaps splitting teams to ensure that if there is a case of illness, hopefully a limited quantity of staff are at risk. Many of our clients have placed strict hygiene regulations in place, in order to guarantee that their staff feel safe and that their health is paramount. These new processes range from simply encouraging an enhanced awareness of the importance cleanliness among staff to not allowing staff to shake hands in meetings. Also, with border restrictions still firmly in place, businesses are generally not travelling off island, carrying out meetings virtually using software such as MS Teams and Zoom. One welcome side effect of this is the time and money saved due to the cessation of business travel, and for many, this has helped to reduce stress levels too. Another knock-on effect of little or no formal client meetings in person, has been the introduction of ‘dress for your day’ policies, which allow staff to dress down or dress up depending on what their work day looks like.
Though most organisations would never have imagined or prepared for a pandemic of this proportion, the lockdown period has dismantled the notion that work cannot be done as successfully when based at home. It has also seen businesses learn to become more innovative and adaptable, introducing new working practices that will still be with us long after the pandemic is a distant memory.