Can home working ever replace commuting?

For millions of UK workers, Spring 2020 has been a wake-up call to the realities of the home office.

workers in an office

Saturday, 23 May, 2020

Between home working, furloughing and mass redundancies, the UK’s jobs market has changed more in the last eight weeks than it did in the previous eight decades.

For millions of UK workers, April and May 2020 will be remembered as the months when the benefits to home working were fully understood for the first time.

As we’ll see in a moment, there’s a great deal to recommend it.

Yet home working also poses unique security issues for companies, who face punitive fines under GDPR and other data protection laws.

Do the benefits to home working outweigh these concerns? And what should employees do to reward the trust of employers still willing to let them work from home once lockdown lifts?

The risks

Every employer will understand the risks and consequences of breaching data protection regulations, but home working poses unique challenges in terms of compliance.

For one thing, there’s the problem of granting access to all relevant data outside offices, where on-site storage facilities are easy to protect.

Forward-thinking firms have already developed intranets, which employees generally access with username-and-password credentials on devices with appropriate software installed.

Other firms rely so heavily on Google Docs or Microsoft 365 (as Office is now known) that accessing these portals provides the majority of resources staff need to do their jobs.

Cloud-hosted workplace software is another huge growth industry.

File storage services (Dropbox), collaborative platforms (Slack), online accountancy interfaces (Sage), webmail (Gmail)…the list goes on.

Nonetheless, each platform invokes specific security concerns, from users not logging out on shared computers to weak passwords being cracked by automated hacking algorithms.

The risk is particularly acute for email – still the main malware attack vector.

The rewards

Ensuring staff can access data in a secure and confidential manner could help firms in numerous industries to capitalise on the benefits to home working.

Open-plan offices and hot desking may have been consigned to history by Covid-19, saving money on workspace rent and rates.

Staff may develop greater loyalty to employers who trust them to work from home, reducing turnover levels, retaining key experience and slashing recruitment/training costs.

Employees will appreciate not having to depend on expensive and unreliable public transport, or driving along congested streets at peak times every day.

People become more productive and less fatigued without ten weekly commutes, potentially enjoying better mental health and a happier work/life balance.

Money saved on commuting is always welcome, while the reduced need for proximity to work or transport hubs could allow many families to move away from urban areas entirely.

The right way

Although it’s currently a necessity, the benefits of home working should be viewed as a privilege rather than a right as lockdown gradually diminishes.

To maintain your employer’s trust, remain productive during core working hours. Watching TV or inviting a friend round mid-morning betrays that trust.

Conversely, spending a proportion of the time you would have been commuting doing extra work shows good faith, since you’ll still have more free time each week.

Optimise productivity with a dedicated home office containing a storage-equipped desk, a large monitor and a comfortable chair with adjustable armrests and lumbar support.

Save data in the cloud rather than on your hard drive, choosing strong passwords and periodically resetting them.

Finally, log out of key sites or apps before leaving a computer anyone else can access. You can’t afford to take any risks with your employer’s confidential data.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!