Since COVID-19 struck, many businesses have been working from home and reaping the benefits, including reduced office costs, a wider talent pool and – according to some studies – increased productivity. Technology companies in particular are choosing to work remotely, even now that the lockdown is over.
Tech giants like Facebook and Google are shifting to more remote working for the long term, and tech startups appear to be following suit. Many companies are considering working from home throughout the winter and some businesses are planning on leaving their offices for good.
But is remote working the right thing in the long term?
Two of London’s most prominent venture capitalists have raised concerns about this trend and are urging these companies to return to the office, fearing that remote working could harm the mental health of their employees and potentially productivity.
Tim Levene, the chief executive of Augmentum, a leading venture capital business, wrote a letter to the executives of the technology startups he invests in, including Tide, Zopa and Monese in which he urged them to stop working from home.
“We must guard against being seduced by the narrative that is developing around this issue and recognise a one-glove solution is not right for all. This is a plea to recognise that we cannot continue to operate as we have been these past few months.”
Erosion of team spirit in the workplace
Brent Hoberman, co-founder of lastminute.com, has echoed Levene’s sentiment, and he himself is going to be working from his office in West London next week, with the aim of leading by example.
Although there are some studies published before lockdown began which suggest that remote working boosts productivity, Hoberman believes that teamwork is crucial to a business’s productive output and creative potential.
He said, “I think it’s going to be very detrimental if we keep people apart and we lose the team spirit and learning by osmosis that happens in offices.”
How does remote working impact mental health?
Levene and Hoberman warn that remote working could have a negative impact on employees’ mental health. Statistics show that the majority of workers, across all sectors, would like to work remotely, at least sometimes, because of the advantages such as flexibility and independence. In fact, a poll of 1,500 technology professionals carried out by Global Workplace Analytics revealed that 37% would take a pay cut of 10% if they could work from home.
But working from home can also be isolating and lonely, and perhaps Levene is shrewd to talk about the potential impact this could have on workers’ mental health and caution against a slippery slope.
According to a survey conducted last year by DigitalOcean, 82% of US tech professionals who work remotely said they feel burnt out, and 52% said they end up working longer hours. Although remote working enables a better work-life balance, there seems to be an expectation that those working home contribute more and therefore they feel more pressure.
Numerous studies have shown that remote working increases productivity – but is this at the cost of workers’ wellbeing?
Levene and Hoberman’s comments have added fuel to the debate about the costs and benefits of remote working. Their suggestions are in contrast to Facebook and Google’s recent announcements that their employees will work remotely until July 2021.