Economic recovery may be bleak if work from home policies continue

For all the government schemes, cheap loans, tax relief and grants, there’s one thing that will truly get us through this recession, like all those that have come before, and that’s hard graft.

‘Getting our heads down’ and ‘nose to the grindstone’ are two of the most common hard-work sayings and they have never been truer as we battle to get ourselves out of this mess.

With agile businesses and productive workers, many businesses will have the tools to trade through the downturn and help the economy recover.  However, when it comes to productivity the UK struggles to be anywhere near the top of the league.

Before the world changed in March, UK productivity was more than 30% behind the US and up to 15% behind Germany. Clawing that back was always going to be tough and has been a puzzle that even the sharpest minds have failed to crack for decades.

And now, with many workforces scattered far and wide by the requirement – sometimes from government and sometimes from employers – to work from home, achieving high levels of productivity is like herding cats.

I am no fan of this way of working and know, to get the best of your people, they should be in one place so they can interact, share ideas and collaborate together without the need to book a slot on Zoom.

But while the country tackles the potential of an impending second spike in Coronavirus cases, the government has reinstated its ‘work from home if you can’ guidance.   It’s become so common it even has its own shorthand, ‘WFH’!

Overcoming the virus is a priority for sure, but, as Rishi Sunak is finding, it’s a balancing act to also protect the economy and the sooner we can get people collectively back to business premises the better.

In the meantime, we have to find other ways to keep our people working in a productive way.  I’ve said before, the temptations and distractions of working from home are not good for business.  It’s easier to waste time, which is a luxury none of us can afford at the moment.

A study from Cardiff University and the University of Southampton found that a third of home workers felt their productivity had fallen during the past few months.

One of the keys to unlocking this issue is technology.  It has given people the kit they need to work from home and remain connected, and it also provides the opportunity to help drive productivity.

Read more: Returning to work is the easiest way to stem “economic carnage”

For a number of years at Pimlico, we’ve used software to track the movements of our engineers’ vans, which helps us manage our business and get the most productive use of our people.

And it seems there are an increasing number of firms applying the same mindset to their kitchen-tabled based workforce.  US-based Hubstaff, which has software to track workers’ hours, keystrokes, mouse movements and websites visited, has seen a four-fold increase in the number of new customers signing up.

Businesses may be accused of snooping on their staff, but when they are on the clock, they have a right to know what they are up to.

If workers were in the office, it would be easier to notice if they were having a sneaky shopping trawl through the Amazon website. Purely being in the office would be a discouragement.  The temptation when at home might just be too much.

And before I get accused of sweeping generalisations, a survey by computer maker Asus actually asked home-based employees what they do when they are supposed to be working on their laptops. A third said they text their friends, 30% browse social media and 27% pay bills or watch TV.  So, more of a case of WTF than WFH!

Related: 1 in 5 workers admit to SLEEPING on the job when working from home

Using this software gives a level of accountability that’s needed to maintain productivity from a remote workforce.

We all have to play our part in this unique economic recovery, and working hard from home, office, van or anywhere else has to be the focus.

No employer really wants to spy on their staff, but if workers think that’s the case, it might actually make them think twice before playing hooky to nip off to watch Homes Under the Hammer!

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