Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic: benefits, challenges and considerations for future ways of working

To understand in the short-term how employees may respond to a policy, such as working from home, this report draws on a rapid review of relevant literature (from 2020-2022) and responses from an open-ended survey with members of the public in Scotland.

Executive summary

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world introduced measures to try and reduce the risk of infection. This included advice or requirements for people to work from home, unless they were key workers. This represented a major and sudden change for a large number of people.

The working from home experience is multi-layered. Understanding its effects, at a personal and societal level, requires consideration of how someone's home environment, work related responsibilities and their personal circumstances interact to impact on their experiences. Due to the diversity and complexity of people's experiences, it is not possible to make a nationwide assessment and summary of how people experienced working from home, for Scotland as a whole.

With this in mind, the aim of this research was to explore a range of working from home perceptions and experiences and then set out the advantages and disadvantages. Data was drawn from a rapid review of relevant literature and responses to open-ended questions, included in a survey with members of the public in Scotland in 2022 (see Annex A and Annex B). The report is presented in two main sections to explore why some workers perceived benefits and others struggled.

In summary:

Reported benefits of working from home

Work-life balance

  • Additional time gained from not commuting was valued. It enabled some employees to spend more time with family or on leisure activities. Time savings also helped some employees who coordinated their time between work and caring responsibilities.
  • Some people reported that they had saved money while working from home, mainly due to the reduction in commuting, socialising, childcare and food costs.

Autonomy and productivity

  • Perceptions of freedom, independence and flexibility to work at times that suited people's personal schedules played a part in employees' positive feelings of job satisfaction and enhanced productivity levels.

Health and wellbeing

  • The home working environment has been beneficial for those at greater risk of COVID-19 (formerly Highest Risk List) as a means of reducing their risk of infection.
  • Some workers reported that working from home was better for their health and wellbeing. Examples provided included an improved quality of life generated through financial savings, more leisure time for exercising and a positive change to people's working environments.

Flexibility and accessibility

  • Working from home during the pandemic benefited those with health issues who may require regular breaks, need to remain close to medical equipment or those who can have unpredictable flare ups.

Reported challenges of working from home

Loss of social interaction

  • A lack of social interaction with work colleagues can make people feel isolated and disconnected. Reduced social support was a challenge - people missed the in-person and often spontaneous encounters with colleagues.

Conflict and blurred boundaries

  • Against the backdrop of worry associated with the pandemic, working from home has contributed to feelings of work-family conflict.
  • An issue that appeared to intensify these feelings, was the fact that working from home has made it harder, for some, to create a sense of separation between their personal and work life.

Overworking and increased responsibilities

  • Some employees were working longer, on average, than they did before the pandemic.
  • The pandemic restricted people's access to formal care services. The combination of trying to juggle work pressures with increased caring responsibilities was challenging for some people.

Physical health and inactivity

  • Mandatory working at home was associated with a reduction in physical activity and an increase in food and alcohol intake. Home working has also led to an increased risk of musculoskeletal issues - related to inappropriate homeworking equipment or working environment.

Workspace environment

  • Working from home can have a negative impact on employees due to the environment that someone is required to work in. Challenges around the home workspace, insufficient internet access and living in shared housing are all factors that may contribute to how challenging someone may experience working from home.

Conclusion and considerations for hybrid ways of working

  • The requirement for people to work from home, to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19, was an extraordinary situation. Understanding the implications of this policy requires an understanding of how contextual and individual factors interact to shape employees perceptions and behaviours.
  • The longer-term impact of working from home (and through a pandemic) is unclear and warrants further and more detailed analysis. In particular, the relevance and impact among different professional sectors and people's life or career stage.
  • Hybrid working has now been embraced by a number of organisations across the UK. This opposition and interaction of employees experiences should be considered by employers. This is also critical from a business perspective for business resilience and employee retention.
  • This report focuses on employees who can work from home. However, it is important to recognise that not everyone can do so. These individuals may therefore not experience some of the health and wellbeing benefits associated with working from home.



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