Before the coronavirus pandemic caused a sudden and unprecedented shift to home working, the office was the place millions of us spent around a third of our day.

While home working is nothing new – it's been on the up in recent years – remote working, up until now, has mostly been the preserve of those in more senior positions.

However, since the lockdown, almost half the UK's workforce say they have been working from home. And with businesses such as Twitter stating their intent to make home working a more permanent arrangement, is the office as we know it a thing of the past?

In this article, we’ll break down some of the benefits of shifting to home working as well as the potential drawbacks, to help you decide whether to make remote work a long-term agreement for your business.

The benefits of working from home

Home working brings new opportunities and advantages for businesses, such as:

Reduced costs

Employing remote workers can reduce operating costs ranging from office space to office supplies, and employers could even save money on the wage bill.

A survey by the virtual Working from Home Show found that some employees would be willing to take a pay cut in order to work from home. The survey reported that 10% of employees would consider being paid less for working from home - around 12% less on average.

This willingness to take a pay cut may be because 72% of remote workers save money whilst working from home with an average saving of £1,416 per year.

Improved staff retention

Working from home can be an attractive employee perk for many wishing to achieve a better work life balance, juggle work with childcare commitments or wanting to avoid distractions in the office.

Almost a fifth of employees (17%) say they would be less likely to leave their job if they worked from home more and 58% feel they are happier working from home.

Improved employee productivity

Despite some employers being concerned about their staff being less productive at home, many actually find the contrary to be true. In fact, according to the Working from Home Show, 51% of employees feel they are more productive working from home and 27% say they work longer hours at home.

Not only can there be fewer social distractions while working from home, but there may also be more opportunities to take necessary breaks when needed, which psychologists say can help with performance, motivation, and creativity.

Better for the planet

The daily commute is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions which are harmful for the environment. In fact, road vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes account for nearly three quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transport.

Working from home can allow employees to ditch the car and help the planet. And with environmental issues a concern for many, showing you are making positive changes towards a greener planet can only be a good thing for your company’s reputation.

Happier workforce

Almost six out of ten (58%) of workers say they are happier working from home, with 40% saying they love skipping the daily commute and 22% enjoying the flexible working hours that often come with remote working.

Not only is this good news for employees, happier staff can have positive effects your business’s bottom line.

According to the University of Warwick, happiness results in a 12% upturn in productivity. So happy employees may be more likely to go above and beyond, achieve their goals, and perform better than their unhappy counterparts.

Reduction in sick days and personal time off

Working from home allows your employees the flexibility to fit their personal commitments and appointments around their working hours. Remote employees can take care of a sick child or run personal errands without taking time off work.

There may also be instances where an employee feels a little under the weather but feels perfectly capable of working from the comfort of their home. In a traditional workplace, an employee must make the decision whether to go into the office and risk infecting their colleagues or stay home and miss a day’s work. Remote working can be a good solution to this dilemma.

The downsides of working from home

While working from home has some obvious benefits, there are some potential challenges that businesses should consider:

Lack of real-time collaboration

In the office it can be easy for colleagues to bounce ideas off each other or put their heads together to solve a problem. They may be in the same room or just a quick walk down the hall away. While remote workers can have meetings online, they don’t have the luxury of in-person collaboration.

Those in junior positions or those new to their role may find this separation from their colleagues particularly difficult, as they can often learn a lot from being around senior members of staff and picking up on their knowledge and experience.

Cyber security issues

Allowing your employees to work away from the office can come with some risks to cyber security. A recent report found that there was a 600% increase in reported phishing emails in during March 2020, with many scammers cashing in on the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Where possible, all work should be done on a corporate laptop with remote access security controls, such as two-factor authentication and a virtual private network (VPN).

For more help on keeping your business secure, check out our blog post on cyber security tips for small businesses.

Blurred lines

One in five employees struggle to switch off from work when working from home. Without that “leaving the office” moment to mark the end of the working day, it can be all too easy for employees to work beyond their contracted hours – but doing so can lead to burnout and mental health issues.

As an employer, you can do your bit to help staff switch off from work after hours. Avoid contacting your employees in the evenings and at weekends and express the importance of setting work-life boundaries and sticking to them.

Employee isolation

Those who work remotely can miss out on the usual office banter and those spontaneous chats by the coffee machine, which can often be vital in building strong working relationships – and let’s face it, talking to colleagues via video call just isn’t the same as seeing them in person.

This lack of face-to-face contact and social interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially for those who live alone. In fact, just over a third (32%) say lack of contact with colleagues is their least favourable part of working from home.

To combat this, schedule time for staff to socialise, just as you would schedule a work meeting. Organising virtual games or quizzes on a Friday afternoon can help staff to unwind ahead of the weekend and get that social connection they need.

Lack of visibility

A survey carried out in 2014 by O2 revealed that many employees believe their performance is measured by the time they spend in the office, rather than the work they deliver. Often, they feel that they need to be visible to their employer, otherwise their commitment may be doubted.

Some people may overcompensate for not having a visible presence in the office by working longer hours or taking on too much work to ‘prove’ to their boss that they are really working from home. This can lead to anxiety and unmanageable stress as the employee takes on more than they can manage.

The risk of distraction

From TV to children to household chores, the home is full of potential distractions. And with no manager looking over their shoulder, employees have only themselves to keep them in line. Working from home requires a huge amount of self-discipline, which may come easily to some, but others may struggle to motivate themselves.

To help keep your workforce motivated while working from home it’s important to clearly communicate expectations, make use of collaboration tools to aid teamwork and recognise employees for their hard work, especially during this difficult time.

Is remote working here to stay?

In reality, the switch to home working might not be as far away as we think, with 55% of people saying that they were already working from home at least one day per week before the coronavirus pandemic. And with 73% of employees wishing to work from home on a permanent basis post-lockdown, there certainly appears to be an appetite for the shift.

As we’ve seen, remote working can be a great employee benefit to offer your staff that can have positive effects on wellbeing and employee productivity. If you’re looking for other perks to offer as part of your company’s employee benefits package, death in service insurance is a low-cost and highly valued benefit that can offer real peace of mind for your employees.