Working from home
Covid-19 shook up people’s work lives. (Image: Tina Tiller)

MoneyOctober 11, 2021

We’ve fallen in love with work from home – and some of us would rather quit than lose it

Working from home
Covid-19 shook up people’s work lives. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Accustomed to working from home, more people than ever want a shorter commute or flexible hours – and bosses risk mass resignations if they don’t adjust, reports Reweti Kohere.

Take it from me: starting a new job at a new workplace amid a global pandemic is a bizarre experience. I still have not met my (kind and welcoming) colleagues in real life. My new office remains a mystery to me and I don’t know where the men’s bathroom is. The route, mode of transport and duration of my daily commute all remain unknown too.

While for me this is a temporary situation, for many people the prospect of permanently working from home – where companions are very real, where bathrooms are really easy to find, where commutes take about 10 seconds – is becoming increasingly attractive. People have realised they can work at home productively and still attend their kid’s school assembly during lunch hours, and the appeal of this kind of flexibility is making some people reconsider their jobs. While 83% of employees had returned to their workplaces from June 2020, a report conducted during the first national level three found the same amount wanted to keep working from home in some form post-lockdown.

Now, according to a new report, nearly three in 10 people are looking for a new job that is closer to home and an employer that offers flexible working hours and location.

At the start of September people management platform Employment Hero surveyed 1,000 people, and found easier commutes and flexibility are concerns for those thinking about their next role. Other results include:

  • Half of respondents plan to look for a new job within the next year, 39% within the next six months and about a fifth are already on the hunt;
  • Seven in 10 employees whose pay cheques were cut during the pandemic will be looking elsewhere for a job within the year;
  • Almost half would consider a job overseas once borders reopened; and
  • Some 37% said not being given a pay rise was the main reason for wanting to leave.

Ben Thompson, Employment Hero’s chief executive, says businesses have six months to prepare and adjust before the anticipated “great resignation” ushers in the “great recruitment rush”.

“We know that flexible options are going to be a part of working futures,” he says. “The pandemic has made employers realise that remote working is not just a viable option, it can often boost productivity and improve employee work/life balance.”

Companies risk being left behind if the status quo is maintained. “Of course, workers understand that not every industry can facilitate remote working,” Thompson says. “But if a business can find a way to share that they respect workers’ personal lives and time – this will be an asset to them.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says the global pandemic has clarified people’s priorities. Not having to commute for two hours or deciding to value one’s wellbeing just as much as one’s salary are possibilities once considered out of reach. “It’s almost like we’ve completely shaken up the snow globe and all the snow’s landing in a different place now. It’s like: ‘wow, things could be different. They don’t have to be how it is’, which I guess is the way when you have some major world event.”

Dr Dougal Sutherland
Clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland (Photo: Supplied)

People have found working from home a blessing, he says, an insight he says he’s gleaned from working for Umbrella Wellbeing, a specialist mental health and wellbeing service provider for workplaces. Flexible working hours or work-from-home allowances used to be seen as “quirky perks” but they are increasingly becoming the norm.

Conversely, working from home has been a curse with some teams losing their sense of camaraderie – enough of a factor to potentially push people to look for a new job if they were already contemplating a move. Sutherland says keeping an eye on staff wellbeing is proving a big challenge for employers.

“There are lots of advantages [to] working from home but you can’t just stop and have the water cooler conversation with somebody. You can’t just drop by somebody’s desk and say: ‘hey, how’s it going? Do you want to go and have a cup of coffee?’”

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Otago University associate professor Sara Walton agrees people are reflecting on their working conditions as a result of the pandemic.

Walton, together with three of her colleagues, surveyed 2,000 people about their experiences working from home during this latest delta lockdown. About 84% found it easy to go back to remote working while nearly two-thirds (63%) said they were happy to have done so. About the same proportion said they found working from home easy. For the three in 10 who found it “somewhat or extremely difficult”, much of the struggle stemmed from trying to work and care for children, or other additional responsibilities.

“A lot of the comments are saying: ‘this is remote working during Covid and so it’s not remote working normally’,” Walton says. “I felt there was more stress in the voices that we heard coming through, just getting a bit tired and a bit frazzled, I would say, in this lockdown and definitely different to the last one.”

The research group’s most recent snapshot follows its findings from the first lockdown, where nearly three-quarters of the more than 2,500 respondents had never worked from home before Covid hit in March 2020. While 22% said they would want to work from home permanently, two in three people preferred a mix of home and office a few times a week or month.

Walton says the good employers are already adjusting to keep a hold on their talent – a consideration as a new generation of workers are wanting different things from their bosses. Rejecting arguments that the younger cohort is simply lazier than others, she says the changes they are fostering will bring about a “better balance” in the workplace. Employers need to be listening.

“I’m not sure watching my parents working, working, working – I’m not sure sometimes I get the balance right either,” Walton says.

“It’s just like, let’s challenge the way that we work and if it’s this new generation that are going to do that or Covid that helps push us towards thinking about things, then I think that’s quite exciting.”

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