Whilst the Government is encouraging individuals to go back to their offices and workplaces, the general trend is for those workplaces to be occupied at a fraction of their full capacity, with individuals working there a couple of days a week when possible. For many people working in retail and manufacturing, this isn’t an option due to workplace management needing to accommodate additional risk control measures. Similarly, many in the FM sector have been working on site for many months as part of the necessary and critical roles that FM provides. But in the service sector, this leads to people–based challenges.
Working from home in the summer
For those working at home, the summer months have been challenging with temperatures hitting above 30ºC for many days. This has made the ability to concentrate for long periods of time difficult in a country where poor building design has led to overheating of homes and flats. This has corresponded with a massive increase in the number of air conditioning units being purchased for homes to provide some respite during these warmer days – representing an increase in energy use in these short periods.
The new challenges of winter
The bigger challenge will come during the winter months stretching from November through to early spring. During these months, the temperatures will drop significantly. The requirement for heating increases and, with the majority of UK housing being poorly insulated and falling below the EPC C grade, this means a highly inefficient winter is approaching for those working from home. This doesn’t even incorporate the additional challenges of well-being, as the lower levels of sunlight are known to have psychological effects on individuals who will be working in isolation for longer periods of time.
The existing housing stock across the UK is known to be poor, with badly insulated properties requiring constant heating to maintain an operable temperature in which to work productively. Whilst the extremely warm weather is more difficult to predict but only lasts for a week or two at a time, the winter weather is more predictable and lasts for several months. The role of organisations to support their workforce is therefore critical and, if not managed, may lead to staff and morale issues that affect productivity. There are a range of challenges that individuals and organisations will face:
- Cost – Lower temperatures require more heating and higher energy bills. Whilst there is a cost saving from reduced travel, there is a question of how this is managed from the increased winter costs. For some, travel is a higher expense, but for others, energy will be.
- Wellbeing – Shorter days does have an impact on wellbeing and greater need for engagement. Closed windows may also affect air quality in the working environment. How does a company manage this?
- Governance – Working from home can no longer be considered a temporary emergency activity and a more considered approach to risk assessments and health and safety is required. Musculoskeletal issues, sight issues and activity levels will all affect the individual and their productivity.
- Carbon – The increased level of gas heating predominantly will have a significant impact on carbon emissions and should certainly be included within an organisation’s carbon footprint. It remains to be seen whether transport emissions savings offset heating savings in a carbon capacity.
What are organisations doing?
Organisations are taking different approaches. There are many real estate directors strategising the fate of their property portfolio over the coming year:
- Some companies, such as banks, are looking for staff to work in regional retail locations. This could help to re-engage corporate culture while offering potential to reduce health and safety travel risks.
- Others will be consolidating their portfolios over the years ahead, and will continue to encourage their teams to work from home permanently.
- Some have arranged rota systems within their portfolio to encourage team working and communication in a socially distanced environment.
- Forward-thinking organisations that have already identified risks of home working have invested in staff home offices with furniture upgrades for their teams.
There is a need for organisations to be more proactive and identify those individuals who are at risk from their chosen working environment during the coming months. Counter intuitively (at this moment in time), they may require some individuals to not work from home for health and wellbeing reasons as we consider health implications beyond the all-consuming risks of COVID19. Either way, open two-way communication lines with individuals that may suffer is needed to ensure that health from a physical perspective and a mental perspective is considered.
This is a complex issue that incorporates health and safety, wellbeing of individuals, productivity of a company, staff morale and corporate culture. A well thought out approach is needed as the winter draws in. Should you have any questions about the content of this post or any of our other services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
BY SUNIL SHAH