7th October 2020

The Positives and Negatives of homeworking


  • Insights and learnings from Jeri Ballard – Executive Vice President, Real Estate, Shell
  • Everyone on an equal footing
  • Reduced travel
  • We’re all human

Over the last few months we have seen the way we work change dramatically, and as employers look to adapt their businesses to the ‘new normal’, work will not look like it did at the start of 2020.  In these unprecedented times and with mass homeworking becoming the norm for many, senior leaders tell us what they think some of the positives and negatives of homeworking are.

Dimple Agarwal – Deputy CEO UK and Managing Partner for People, Deloitte says: “Deloitte as an employer has always offered and encouraged agile and flexible working. Many of our people had already experienced working from home either routinely or occasionally, and we ensure they are set up to do so effectively. However, of course, since lockdown, everybody has been at home. This has brought about new challenges. It has propelled us as a business to flex our ways of working in a way we never expected, and accelerated the work we were already doing around the Future of Work. Three key themes have emerged for us and our people through this – wellbeing, collaboration and social interaction.

Wellbeing is a priority
“From the get-go we were clear that the health, safety and wellbeing of our people was the priority. This has been nuanced and has meant different things to different people. We needed to ensure all aspects of wellbeing: physical, mental, financial. We needed to enable people with increased caring responsibilities to be able to adjust and work effectively. Equally, 70 percent of our workforce are millennials and a lot of them live in flat shares or live alone, which meant different challenges. What has really emerged through the last three to four months, is that the extent of loneliness is something we did not anticipate so much at the beginning of lockdown. Since then it has been a key focus area. We encourage team leads and coaches to check in on their teams regularly, so no one is left out or forgotten. We have a range of support tools available for our people, from virtual network meet ups, to telephone counselling, which we make people aware of at all times should they feel the need to utilise them.

“A key feature of our response has been offering more flexibility. We have introduced a few initiatives in the last few months to enable this, which have been very well received. For example, we extended our carer sabbatical policy and also introduced flexible time sheets.

“We put in place a Wellbeing Movement, an employee-led platform of useful resources, support and a daily calendar of wellbeing activities, from yoga to nutritional webinars, for our people. It is built around the ‘Mind charity’s five pillars – which are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Learn and Give. Every week we refresh and what we do, and it has worked really well for our people. 

“The extent of loneliness is something we did not anticipate so much at the beginning. Since then it has been a key focus area.”

The importance of collaboration
“As a people business, we are totally dependent on collaboration and relationships. We do all our work in teams so the other focus area was how to help people work virtually.  We have all become super users of Zoom, Teams and Skype. And a positive of homeworking is that people have been quick to adapt, and productivity has increased in some cases, but the whole human interaction has been the biggest downside for a lot of people.

Social Interaction
“We are undoubtedly missing social interaction, family, friends, even our work colleagues! Most of our workforce in Deloitte are Millennials, so are a particularly sociable group. You can sense that people want to return to the office, to have some sense of normality and to mix and interact with their colleagues and friends. Furthermore, we recognise people will want to be socialising with other people than their colleagues, and enabling a work / life balance has been a key message to our leaders.”

Jeri Ballard, Executive Vice President, Real Estate, Shell adds: “The younger generation also don’t want to be virtual and on their own. We once thought that they all want to work from anywhere, but they don’t. They like interacting with people, and they know that by working with people they learn more than they do if they’re just off on their own. They want a place to affiliate to and that’s something we still have to be able to provide.”

Relationship building
Michiel Bakker, Director, Global Workplace Services Programs, Google comments: “I wonder if working from home is going to work for all of us longer term, and I would say we are very cautious about it internally. I think we are building at home upon relationships that were built by being physically together, so it’s interesting to think what the employee relationships and employee experience would be like for someone who has been in the organisation for eight years versus someone who has started online.”

“Everybody working virtually has been a great equaliser”

Everyone on an equal footing
Ballard comments: “One of the big positives for us is that everybody working virtually has been a great equaliser. We have a very global business and rarely do you have a meeting where everyone is in the same room. You will have some people in the room and everyone else dials into it, and they tend to feel like a fly on the wall listening into someone else’s conversation and not feel part of it. Now everyone is on an equal footing – everyone is dialling in, looking at the same thing at the same time, all equal on the dial in.

Reduced Travel
“Without people travelling everyone has generally been available to get things done. When people were travelling we couldn’t do certain things, but everyone being available has meant that we have been able to move at amazing speeds on some of the things that we’ve needed to do.

“The younger generation also don’t want to be virtual and on their own. They know that by working with people they learn more. They want a place to affiliate to and that’s something we still have to be able to provide.”

We’re all human
Ballard also adds: “I think we all get a sense of that in some ways you feel like you know people better because now you’ve seen inside of everyone’s house, and seen a side of them that you haven’t seen before which reminds us that we’re all human. I was doing a presentation to the board of directors in Shell, and my cat climbs up on the chair behind me, and it just brought a smile to everyone’s face that there was this cat sitting there watching the board meeting. He’s now known as scooter the executive cat – pets show up, kids show up, life happens and it’s ok.”

If you would like to talk to someone about how Compass can support your business as you face new challenges, please contact: Jake Frank at jake.frank@compass-usa.com

“People have been quick to adapt, and productivity has increased in some cases.”