Working from home has its good points – but isolation will drive many back to office

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Remote working is convenient, but also isolating, and when offices reopen, the downsides will become more apparent.

Despite the prevailing narrative which holds that the office is past its sell-by date, I’d be inclined to agree with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who last week branded working from home (WFH) an “aberration” and “not a new normal”.

“For a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal,” David Solomon said, giving a clear signal WFH was an emergency reaction to an emergency situation, and once Covid beats a retreat, everyone at the investment bank will be back in.

The push for WFH is coming from research that shows blended working is what people want and from data proving productivity didn’t fall when one-in-four of us logged in from home last March.

The wheels are in motion but is it too soon to make long-term decisions?

Many jobs are now advertised as remote, our National Remote Work Strategy is aiming for 20pc of public servants to work remotely (predictably, there is huge demand from those with long commutes), and tech companies, such as Facebook, expect half their employees to WFH in five years.

Chartered psychologist and executive coach Dr Mary Collins says there is a dark side to WFH, with some people feeling more lonely and paranoid. “The inner critic gets louder. If we are not invited to a meeting, or an email is not replied to, we are quicker to attribute these to negative reasons than if we can see our colleagues in the meeting through a glass window or if we can drop by someone’s desk,” she said.

She is finding with the people she coaches that remote working has hit self-confidence, with more imposter syndrome reported, the term used to describe anxiety about being exposed as a fraud.

In addition, Zoom does not allow for that informal chat you get after a physical meeting, which helps clarify information and so people can start to read shadows where they don’t exist.

She warns if the majority of a team returns to the office, those WFH are likely to start feeling left out.

However, many of the surveys are from last summer when everyone was in the same boat. It has since emerged we work longer hours WFH and I wonder after the year we have had, will there be some emotional scarring with the four walls closing in for many? I interview people about their working life and those who have a job which does not allow for remote working all say they feel lucky as they would go mad WFH.

Those who do WFH point out the good bits, but on balance, most deduce it’s a poor substitute.

The exceptions were a freelance consultant and a video gaming executive whose team was spread over many different countries – the processes were in place, the work was absorbing and with everyone remote, nobody felt left out.

Unsurprisingly, we are not in great form. Research from the CSO found 42pc now rate their life satisfaction as low – the highest such rating ever – with 17pc of women lonely all or most of the time, compared with 9.2pc of men.

There are many out of a job or going into a workplace, so home working can’t take all the blame, but with a quarter of us WFH, it must be a factor.

I find it much easier to work remotely when you are freelance because you are naturally on the outside so don’t feel out of it.

The flexibility of WFH is the only reason I can work at the moment – my partner works for a start-up and not all the kids are at big school – so I’m happy.

But when my circumstances change, I would prefer to go out to work because, like many women that work part-time, I spend too much time in the home as it is.

Dr Collins says having a physical place to go and colleagues there to chat with helps “get you into the mindset of work”.

Even when you are in a total fowler, when you step into the office you need to act as if you are a friendly and reasonable type of person, and in turn you become that person.

You have to make an effort; you can’t storm in and grunt and glare at your colleagues.

Unfortunately, she says, communicating on online platforms won’t lift you out of a bad mood in the same way.

I am finding older parents, whose children are no longer young, are also eager to get back.

Younger people can hardly wait. My first taste of remote working was in 2007 when I was writing features for a website and I remember it as such a lonely time.

When you are starting out you are so unsure of your identity, working from your bedroom does not help you thrive.

Around this time, I also worked on a freelance basis in the RTÉ newsroom. Being up and out and surrounded by others, I found myself twice as productive and happy.

In July, a poll by the Institute of Directors found nearly one third are considering downsizing office space, but they should wait to see how their employees vote with their feet when all adults are vaccinated in September.

People will definitely want the option of WFH and for some the flexibility will be too alluring to resist, but don’t expect the majority to take it up.

Source: Irish News