Away from concerns over productivity and corporate culture, the mental health of employees working alone at home is one of the key issues which might leave people wanting to get back to the office.
It's a real concern – particularly amongst younger people whose social lives often revolve around their workplace and work colleagues, and will often learn by observing more experienced colleagues, something they can't do at home.
Yasuhiro Kotera is the University of Derby's academic lead in counseling, psychotherapy and psychology.
An accredited counsellor/psychotherapist, he has researched areas including occupational mental health, positive psychology for mental health, organizational applications of coaching and neuro-linguistic programming, and cross-cultural comparison.
He also says he's currently managing to work from home successfully despite recently becoming the father of a set of triplets.
WHAT DOES KOTERA SAY?
"What's unique at this time is that employees are forced to work from home," Kotera says. "That leads to a heightened level of stress, loneliness, depression and anxiety – substance abuse has been increasing, too."
And constant video conferencing isn't really helping, with the rise of what's becoming known as "Zoom fatigue." "Humans are naturally adapted to face-to-face, in-person communication," says Kotera. "In real conversations you hear the person you're talking to say 'Yeah,' or show facial expressions, those kind of things that are very limited in video conference meetings – and that creates stress at an unconscious level."
However, he says there are some simple things companies can do to ensure their employees working from home don't spiral downwards.
"Some innovative companies are taking this as an opportunity to create workplace trust – and trust from employees to the company is really, really important to maintain long-lasting high work performance.
"So for example, one company in the Netherlands is sending vegetables and fruits to their employees' homes regularly, to show they care about an employee's wellbeing."
The big issue for Kotera is that there are some issues around working from home which are essentially unresolvable.
"About a third of adult communication consists of informal chit-chat, which leads to more connection with colleagues and also feeling safe in the workplace."
Those water-cooler moments are difficult, if not impossible, to recreate when working from home. However, he adds that may not be too much of a problem for an employer: "What's interesting is that this office chit-chat could hinder our cognitive concentration, which may actually affect workplace performance."
ALSO ON THE AGENDA:
• Global Workplace Analytics president Kate Lister explains how working from home, pandemic or no pandemic, can save employees three of their most precious commodities – their time, their money and their (mental) health.
• Heejung Chung from the University of Kent's school of social policy, sociology and social research explains how there could be real benefits to the new working normal – especially in bridging the gender pay and opportunities gap.
• What about the flexible co-working space? Mathieu Proust, WeWork's general manager for the UK, Ireland and emerging markets, discusses this underused halfway house between the office and our homes.