Martyn Freeman Mitie
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News 3 Min Read 20 November 2020
20 November 2020 3 Min Read
News

Home working. Is it really working?

Martyn Freeman challenges the efficiency of home working

I was on the phone today trying to sort out some car insurance business via a call centre. Over the years, I have occasionally been queued with a holding message, telling me to wait because the company was experiencing higher than normal call levels. Now, the message has changed to an apology saying, “As a result of Covid19, many of our staff are remote working and we are unable to provide the usual levels of customer service.” Really?

Many companies, notably the tech companies, have embraced the enforced shift in working patterns caused by Covid19. Even with the prospect of a vaccine becoming available, they are planning for the likelihood of a distributed workforce and flexible working as a permanent, future arrangement. Of course, many staff love home working because it removes the dreaded cost and inconvenience of commuting and it improves their work-life balance. However, no one seems to be challenging how this arrangement is working from the perspective of the businesses and more importantly, its customers.

I know that home working does work well for some business models. I have recently had a brilliant exchange via video-link with the tech-support team at Curry’s. The lady who took my call was obviously working from home and able to help quickly and efficiently with a problem I had configuring my new laptop. I could even live with the sounds of kids playing and dogs barking in the background because my issue was resolved quickly and efficiently.

But my bad experience with the insurance company made me think about all the other organisations for which home working isn’t working and the potentially disastrous affect it could be having for their business. Call waiting times have increased, customer service quality has dropped, and the excuses are growing – and I can’t accept that this all has to be an inevitable consequence of a change to home working.

What is being done to address this problem? Do organisations have a plan to manage the remote, distributed workforce to ensure business as usual? Are they carrying out their Duty of Care to these people in terms of the way that have been set up and supported? In most cases the answer to these questions appears to be, “No!”

I know of several people who have just been given a laptop with a VPN connection and told to get on with it. They may not have the quality of broadband needed to do their job, nor the luxury of a small room they can adapt as a dedicated office. They may be huddled on the edge of a bed with the laptop on their knees and the heating off to save money. For these less fortunate home workers, the novelty of home working has surely worn off, raising many questions about the wellbeing of individuals working in isolation for extended periods. I worry that this is a ticking time bomb that could result in a wave of sickness and injury claims in 2021.

The army of homeworkers has risen steadily back to one in three of the workforce during this second period of lockdown. The FM industry could be doing a lot more to support them in areas such as health, safety, and welfare. Simple DSE display screen assessments, risk assessments of the home-working area and provision and installation of ergonomic chairs, workstations and computer tech accessories, would be a simple and obvious step forward. Instead, the best I’ve heard of is an employer sending staff a box of Krispy-Kreme donuts on a Friday.

Who knows how much longer this pandemic emergency will be with us, or whether home working will become the norm? I can see that if the situation persists, then it may force a complete change in the way that we work – not just in terms of what we do, and how and where we do it, but also the nature of the relationship employees have with their employer. What if people get such a real taste for this detached lifestyle, that they strike out to embrace it completely? The last decade has seen the rise of the freelancer and the distancing that Covid19 is placing between employer and employee may stimulate a surge in portfolio workers, working on their terms to deliver their own skill or specialism. Thoughts for another blog perhaps?

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