Life under lockdown – why we miss office work culture

From communication problems to cyber security issues, working from home can be a stressful experience

On 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures were being introduced in an attempt to slow down the spread of the highly-infectious COVID-19 virus. Daily life changed from one day to another. As hospitals filled with new patients, offices were abandoned. Restaurants and cafes closed. Many public transport stations became completely empty for the first time in decades, if not centuries. For the employees who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs and work from home, life went on, one way or another.  And while there are many social media posts extolling the virtues of working in tracksuit bottoms all day, other people have found their work/life balance has suffered tremendously. 

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To mark the first full month since Britain went into lockdown, we spoke to some workers who are feeling the downsides to working from home and asked why they are looking forward to returning to the office.

Productivity - lost in communication?

Working from home can be isolating, especially for those who are used to spending up to 40 hours a week in a busy environment with an abundance of social interaction. Charlie Worrall, Digital Marketing Executive at web design agency Imaginaire Digital, misses the simplicity of face-to-face communication with colleagues.

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"Having never had to work from home before, this has all been a new experience for me. It's really come to make me appreciate how good our office really is,” Worrall tells IT Pro. From his perspective, shifting the day-to-day conversations to a digital sphere has heavily impacted the quality of communication.

“I find that the simplest of conversations tend to become drawn out, for example, instead of just asking the person next to me a question, I instead use the likes of email, Whatsapp or Slack to contact them. If they don't reply for a while I might call them and eventually get the answers I needed. All of this just creates an inconvenience, however, I completely understand why we need to go through the process of a lockdown and take social distancing very seriously.”

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Kerry Sheahan, Head of Content & PR at FSE Digital, a digital agency specialising in search marketing, counts technical difficulties and the change in coworker interactions as the main downsides to working from home during the lockdown.

“We’re a digital agency, so obviously we’re all well-versed in using digital tools, but sometimes people forget there’s a difference between using digital tools for marketing, and general IT knowledge. I could write you an essay on the intricacies of on-page SEO elements, but if my Outlook stops working I’m FaceTiming our IT guys,” she says.

“The other thing for me, is that while we’re all making an effort to stay connected, you don’t see people’s initial reaction to your ideas. We all tend to be polite over email, and if we jump on a call, we’ve normally had a quick brief on what we’re going to cover. For me, someone’s honest opinions to new marketing ideas we’re bouncing around comes in that split-second reaction they can’t control when you first share your ideas.”

Her colleague, head of SEO Sam Mead, agrees. “Even though we are using technology to stay connected, we’re missing that ability to shout across the office or just approach somebody for an update or catch up. Ultimately this is leading to certain aspects of projects being slowed down, and reducing productivity in some ways,” he says.

Security is everything

According to a new survey from Atlas Cloud, a UK-based managed service provider that specialises in managed cloud services and hosting solutions, more than half of homeworkers (57%) believe their company should be doing more to help them be more productive. While four in five office workers (79%) now based at home believe the lockdown has proven they can work efficiently in such an environment, around a fifth (19%) said they need their company to act urgently to enable them to work productively during the lockdown.

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Atlas Cloud CEO, Pete Watson, thinks the current situation is “the largest overnight change in British working habits since the outbreak of the Second World War”. 

“Our research shows that the majority of office workers believe they need more help from their employers to cope with the technological challenges of working from home,” he says.

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A third of workers (34%) said their work was being hampered by the poor performance of their home internet connection, while 24% complained of having to log in to too many separate software packages and apps while working from home. One in five respondents said they could not access the computer files they need while working from home (22%) or complained that the quality of the laptop, desktop or tablet they were using to work on from home was negatively affecting their work productivity (20%).

Using your work tech at home also creates a security nightmare. According to Watson, “office workers may not be working from home as safely, from a business and cyber security [perspective], as they could be”.

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A quarter of employees are using a personal laptop for home working, with half of them admitting to storing work files on their personal device, which raises considerable concerns about the security of business information.

Cyber security is an issue that businesses will have to deal with if working from home is here to stay. In only one month, the coronavirus lockdown has already drastically changed the traditional working landscape, showing everyone that a meeting really can be an email. In fact, it might mark the end of office culture as we know it, with employees never returning en masse to their desks. But despite the slog of a commute or annoying lack of soy milk in the cafeteria fridge, many people miss the experience of working together in person: priceless social interactions, a quick nod to approve a decision, the sound of laughter at an inside joke, or some priceless gossip by the coffee machine. Dear Office, we miss you.

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