If all employees who are able to work from home, even after the corona crisis, start working an extra day from home, this could lead to costs for their employers in the long term. These costs are related to the effects of less collaboration, less engagement of people with the organisation and isolation and stress. These costs can run from 375 million to 1.5 billion per year. Employers can take various measures to mitigate the risks of working from home, and therefore also the costs.
In organisations where it is possible, a significant number of employees are working partly or completely from home in connection with the corona crisis. Because this is going well, partly owing to good digital infrastructure, many companies are seriously considering permanent changes to where and how work is done in their organisations. Our study The Costs and benefits of working from home, part II shows that there are risks involved, which mainly relate to the soft side of the organisation: the aspects that are not immediately visible, less tangible and more difficult to quantify. These effects of working from home, such as on innovation, productivity and the well-being of employees are only visible in the longer term, but can be long-lasting.
Previously, PwC published research showing that the benefits of working from home are also large. If everyone who is able to work from home does so for an extra day compared to the pre-crisis situation, society could save nearly four billion euros. These savings mainly come from lower spending on the rent of office space and greatly reduced commuting, which also results in fewer traffic jams, traffic accidents and less investment in infrastructure. CO2 emissions could also fall by 606 kilotons.
However, the revenues as presented in the first study and the costs from The costs and benefits from working from home, part II, cannot simply be compared with each other. While the benefits (or cost savings) are immediately visible, the costs only arise in the long term. Furthermore, employers, employees and society benefit from the savings, while the costs associated with more working from home arise largely due to the "soft" organisational aspects like lower collaboration and innovation, and almost exclusively end up with the employers.
Debby Jannink, partner in the P&O organisation of PwC, assumes that even when social distancing is behind us, many organisations where remote working is possible, will choose to continue doing so, at least partly. But she also says that this requires adjustments in the organisation and among managers. 'For example, to mitigate the risks of working from home, it is very important that supervisors know how their employees are doing. This can be done by regularly sending out surveys, on the basis of which other measures can be taken.'
'People often find working from home very pleasant. It gives flexibility and freedom. At the same time you see that there is also a kind of tipping point. This research also shows that when working from home continues for too long, a large number of people feel stressed and lonely. I can well imagine that for many companies the office will become a meeting place and the home office will be the place where you work out documents or complete your to-do lists. But that also demands a lot from the organisation and the people.'
According to Debby Jannink, it is a question of finding a balance. 'Everyone wants to keep the positive aspects of working from home as much as possible. Rightly so, but then you also have to address the negative sides from day one. It's not going to go well by itself.'