CEO’s Blog: Is home working all it’s cracked up to be?

“You must be ok, you work from home anyway” several people said to me when we were all suddenly thrown into the first lockdown. As a consultant, yes I do work mostly from home and I love the freedom and flexibility but there were still some changes and challenges I had to deal with. I certainly hadn’t appreciated how much “popping out” I did to break the day up, and get me out of the house away from my PC. And the occasional face to face meetings provided a welcome trip out and a chance to meet people. 

For sheltered and retirement housing staff, the initial move to home working was a culture shock. Scheme managers are at their best when they are interacting with and supporting residents and no doubt applied for their job because they like being out and about and working with people rather than tied to a desk all day. To suddenly switch to home working must have been challenging especially where home schooling was involved or other family members were also working from home. Initially there were lots of positives – spending more time with family, less time and money spent travelling etc. But the longer the situation continues some of downsides of home working have come to light – not necessarily having a comfortable working space, difficulties working with family around, too much time on screens, “Zoom” headaches, attending more not fewer meetings etc. 

Many staff have now returned to schemes albeit often on a part-time basis but I am starting to hear talk of staff perhaps continuing to work at least partly from home more permanently when we return to ‘normal’.  Home working suits some people but certainly not everyone. It may not suit their personal or family circumstances, it may not be physically comfortable to do so, or it may just not suit their personality. 

Can a quality sheltered and retirement housing service really be provided with scheme staff working more from home? In March we thought we were facing a short-term crisis that would end quite quickly. Sheltered and retirement housing staff are always so resourceful and resilient and the extent to which support to residents was maintained was incredible. But as the situation continues, self-isolation as a result of physical need or understandable anxiety, as well as the curtailing of face to face social networking opportunities, has exacerbated the loneliness of residents who were already lonely and has resulted in more older people becoming lonely and isolated. 

We therefore need to think carefully about staff working arrangements and factor in the impact on the sometimes unnoticed support on-site scheme managers provide to lonely and isolated older people. We also need to think carefully about the longer term impact of home working on staff. 

Yes of course I am ok working from home. I am far more fortunate than many people – I have plenty of work, a comfortable home, and live within walking distance of a lovely coastline. But the last few months have certainly given me a greater awareness of some of the negative effects of home working, and highlighted the sometimes unappreciated benefits of office or scheme based working.

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