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Home working beyond lockdown – how to make it easy

WFH

Alice Ramsden de Gomez, consumer product manager, Epson UK looks at the new normal of home working, the challenges it presents and how they can be managed at scale

Home working has been on the increase for years. Since 2005, the number of people operating from their own property or a remote location has grown by 159%. However, when lockdowns across Europe were enforced, the number skyrocketed.

In fact, nearly 4-in-10 people in the EU set up a home office because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the change happened in the space of just a few weeks across the entire continent. In some countries, such as the UK, it happened overnight.

There have been highs and lows for many during this period. On one hand, it’s great to be able to spend time exercising instead of commuting, or to type up an email from the garden on a sunny day. On the other, there have been some notable downsides, from kids interrupting important calls (some on live TV) to people inadvertently revealing too much on Zoom. It’s been a mixed bag.

Regardless of varying restrictions, however, home working will continue in a much bigger way than before. It’s estimated that in the US, 25-30 per cent of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.

The challenges we’ll face

When it comes to obstacles to the home working trend, first on the agenda is physical comfort. In a survey of people working from home in lockdown across France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US, 37% said their back pain increased because they have been working from their beds and sofas more often than before the pandemic.

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The solution is simple: get a proper office chair and desk that allows the correct sitting height and typing position. In many countries, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all staff, including those working from home, so many businesses are putting in place ways of ensuring that the home working environment is fit for purpose.

There is also the challenge of dealing with distractions. Deliveries arriving, children needing attention, chores that need doing. While some of these have been tough to manage in lockdown, as restrictions fluctuate, workers need to find ways to overcome the tendency to drift away from their work sphere and into the home one.

Embracing collaboration tools is also crucial. Many office workers will now recognise the names Slack, Teams and Zoom, if they didn’t before. It’s been argued that only seven per cent of communication comes from the actual words we use, so video conferencing can really help with breaching the gap while face-to-face isn’t possible. For that reason, email and messaging are non-starters when it comes to a full understanding.

Then there’s office equipment. It’s been estimated that small companies spend about £1,470 a year on office products, of which about 50 to 60 per cent were consumable supplies. The same survey also shows that two thirds (66 per cent) of home workers printed the same or more work documents in lockdown than they would in the office. So, what can be done to help workers with these new and unexpected costs?

Finding a resolution

Perhaps one solution to this final challenge is a subscription model for printing. Many employees will be used to subscriptions for telephone and internet services, and increasingly for entertainment purposes such as Netflix and Spotify.

During lockdown, however, the subscription economy has really come of age – and the data proves it. According to Zuora, a subscription management platform company, in the first quarter of 2020, the annual rate of sales among some of the 500 largest businesses in the US reduced by 1.9 per cent. Meanwhile, subscription-based revenue continued to grow at 9.5 per cent.

Workers could also consider a printing subscription where a printer is provided, which orders new ink to be delivered before it runs out. The benefit to the employee is an uninterrupted supply. To the employer, it allows for lower expenditure of up to 90 per cent less. Considering employees in many countries will be putting the cost of these consumables on their company, it could be a huge saving.

Subscribing to a home printing service during normal times is useful. However, in the new world of post-COVID home working and learning, it becomes essential. As businesses and employees continue to adapt, subscription services for home office supplies, which can be reviewed and changed in an instant, are set to become the norm, make home working sustainable for everyone, for as long as is needed.