19 May 2020

Well Connected? – by Liz Forte, Health & Wellness Director

Thanks to superfast wi-fi and smart technology, it seems like many of us can do our jobs perfectly well from the spare room or kitchen table. But is it enough – and will it last?

According to a study from the University of Warwick Business School, ‘happy people are 12% more productive than the average individual’ – and while there’s lots to love about working from home, there are downsides too.

I got together with my team (remotely, of course) to discuss the reality of homeworking right now. Eurest is one of the largest workplace caterers, with over 700 sites across the UK, so we’re all used to connecting remotely, from our homes, offices and client premises. We are also a real mix demographically, with Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Generation Z all represented.

Here’s what we talked about.

Creativity  

Working creatively is a big part of our job. Activities we used to take for granted – like workshops and brainstorms – are much harder to do remotely. While we can all talk at once when we’re in the same room, it just doesn’t work on a video call.

Solo working has its own problems. Sitting in the same spot all day, staring at the same screen, can stifle creative thinking. We’re missing the stimulus of a change of scene.

Environment

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth spelling out: the home itself makes a big difference. In my team, some of us are lucky enough to have a home office. Others – living in shared houses or with parents – are having to do conference calls from their bedrooms. That’s not great for work-life balance.

Socialising

We’re a close-knit team (especially now that we’ve seen each other’s kids, partners, dogs, messy kitchens) and everyone is missing the social side of the office.

Those with fewer home commitments – Gen Z and the Millennials – miss the after-office side too, from cocktails in town to meals out. And it’s hardly surprising:

An Office Vibe survey found that for 70% of employees, friendships at work are the most crucial element to a happy working life. 

Food and drink

Talking of meals, we’ve all got a renewed appreciation of the employee restaurant.At the office, breaks give us a chance to refresh tired eyes, catch up with colleagues and mark progress. They punctuate the day. Putting the kettle on at home just isn’t the same. Lunch is also lacking – cooking for one can be time-consuming, inconvenient and costly. And that’s before we even get to the healthy eating side of things!

It’s easy to see why workplace restaurants are seen as such an employee benefit.

Movement

Closely linked to food and drink is exercise. When we’re at the office we move around naturally, from desk to desk, from meeting room to water cooler. In contrast, doing 10,000 steps a day at home can be a real effort – especially when it gets to 5pm, and you’ve only done 63.

We’ve made an agreement, as a team, to start walking and talking. From now on, we’ll conduct our catch-ups on the phone, while we stroll. 

Technology

The younger generations in our team are happy to be digitally connected, but the rest of us are muttering about eye tests, and finding it all a bit intense.

The combination of work phone, personal phone and email is plenty to manage, without regular video calls and live chats. And it’s all made worse by the fact that we’re captive – there’s nowhere to be but work, right now.

Networking

From hosting a big meeting to saying ‘hi’ to the MD, sharing an office gives workers lots of opportunities to raise their profile. But they’re practically impossible to replicate virtually.

We might be able to deliver effectively from home, but we risk being disconnected from the output. That’s a worry for some of our younger colleagues.

Community

The personal connections we make over the course of a normal day in the office – the quick chat after the meeting, the shared jokes, the body language – all help to build a sense of belonging.

We miss it right now. And the effects could be long-lasting:

according to the American Psychological Association, ‘building connections’ is crucial to building resilience.

Chance

Finally, there are the happy accidents.

When we’re presenting to the boss, or joining a big video conference, we’re all at our most professional – we put on our game face and perform. And it works well.

But what about the magic that happens when we’re more relaxed? Sometimes, it’s the informal interactions and chance encounters that spark the best ideas – and they’re much harder to come by in the kitchen or spare room.