It looks like WUR staff will be forced to work from home for the time being. How does this affect people? Resource asked Herman Kok, lecturer in Business Management & Organization. ‘This might open up the home working debate.’
What does working from home do to people?
‘People who were already working from home have adapted to it and are used to finding the right work-life balance. But I think there is a large group who had no idea what to expect. Now they are trying to work at the kitchen table with the kids running around and their partner at home, for instance. That is stressful.
A lot of research has been done on working from home since the 1980s, mainly with regard to the work-life balance, satisfaction and professional and social isolation. However, little attention has been paid to the spatial aspects of the home working environment. That is why we have decided to make a virtue of necessity: the current situation gives us a unique opportunity to study this on a large scale and so I have started a free nationwide monitor with my company Shign. We are studying the effects of the space and facilities employees have on their well-being, work-life balance and productivity. That will be interesting for employers, and for us researchers of course.’
How can the organization support people?
‘Mainly by not asking too much of people. Working from home is normally about doing administrative tasks with the occasional meeting. You can’t expect people to do the same as at the office. Filling the days with online meetings is going too far. People need to find their own rhythm. They also have a need for social contact. That has to be online now. Some people arrange virtual coffee breaks for chatting. As regards the workplace, ergonomic aspects are important of course but I don’t think you should expect your employer to go all out right now. I am not expecting employees to make an issue of it at the moment, but it might cause problems if the situation continues for long.’
Does working from home have benefits?
‘I think we can learn from this situation. To date, WUR has always been reluctant to let staff work from home so I am curious to see what the experiences are and whether there will be an evaluation. At the moment everyone is working at home whether they like it or not, but if it suits some people perhaps they could do so more often. This is an opportunity to open up the home working debate.’