In our second blog in the WorkFreeTM series Kenneth Freeman explores why months of home working has brought a variety of benefits to employees.
When lockdown started, millions of office workers were forced to adapt to a new way of working very quickly. Once the novelty had worn off, the practical issues had to be addressed, and the benefits enjoyed – and many people experienced things that were completely new.
From cramped trains or long drives on congested roads to a twenty-second journey from bedroom to kitchen table, the newly home-based were able to reclaim hours a week and hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of savings in rail fares, fuel and wear and tear on their cars. That regained time has been put to many uses. Some of it for home schooling, which was a trial and cause for stress for many, but for a lot of people, that extra time allowed for a greater appreciation of nature and its rhythms.
The reduction in commuting has had several environmental benefits. Research from China showed significant improvements in overall air quality and reductions in fine particulates in cities that were locked down (as well as some that were not, as a result of behavioural changes in those areas). Reductions in road traffic, air travel and other economic activity also led to a global reduction of 8% in greenhouse gas emissions (which is roughly three times the annual emissions of Italy) during the first four months of the year compared to 2019. Some felt that the planet had a chance to catch its breath for a little while.
The improvements in air quality also benefited those suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses and even reduced the haze in the atmosphere and really did make the sky bluer than before.
Other benefits included a reduction in traffic noise, which made birdsong this spring even more apparent than usual.
As well as the time released, lockdown has also meant that office workers have spent less. As well as having fewer opportunities to spend due to businesses being closed for several weeks, office workers that normally commute have saved on rail fares and fuel, as well as on common expenditure such as coffee and lunch. Whilst, on a daily basis, these expenses seem small, they soon add up to a noticeable monthly saving.
The time saved from commuting has also brought benefits. These range from simply feeling less rushed at the beginning and end of the working day, to allowing time to do other things, such as running errands or just enjoying a walk, or more time for better sleep.
One of the bugbears of office life is the risk of interruption from colleagues or sudden panics that are deemed to require an immediate response. Being remote from such interference and being shielded from unplanned interruptions enables better planning and time management, and more likelihood of being able to get into a state of flow – a psychological state that enables many to work productively and with great focus and sense of wellbeing. Interruptions to flow can take a long time to recover from – maybe as long as 20 minutes, so being able to ensure no interruption can be a very useful thing.
More time for mental health
As well as being able to work more productively in a state of flow, having those extra hours in the day saved by avoiding a long commute allows time for activities that will have benefits for mental health. For example, gaining an appreciation of nature, especially the changing seasons by taking walks or enjoying a garden.
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1 He, G., Pan, Y. & Tanaka, T. The short-term impacts of COVID-19 lockdown on urban air pollution in China. Nat Sustain (2020).