The benefits and drawbacks of working or studying from home are not clear cut
Would you take a pay cut to work from home permanently? In a survey of 1022 UK office workers by Ciphr, a company that provides HR software, 73% of the respondents said that they would. For them, the lack of commute, convenience of being at home or perhaps just the ability to avoid annoying co-workers is a price worth paying for.
But not everyone is so keen on remaining remote – even part-time. In July, the University of Manchester, UK, confirmed that it would permanently maintain a blended learning approach to learning, with a mixture of online and in-person teaching. Tuition fees will stay at pre-pandemic levels, leading over 9000 students to sign a petition against the measure. For them, online learning has been a far less valuable experience than in-person teaching.
Money isn’t all that matters, of course. Perhaps the Manchester students would feel a bit less dissatisfied if course fees were discounted, but that won’t fully compensate for the social and educational experiences they feel they’re losing out on. That some employers are considering reducing pay for workers who remain remote full-time suggests they too think that there are some things that can’t be replicated online.
Or at least that’s the case for our current set-ups. We’re still dealing with the legacy of the rushed transition to home working in the early days of the pandemic – which, lest we forget, was widely assumed to be a short-term measure. It would be surprising if everything we first tried worked well. Particularly in education, where there’s only been one full academic year under restrictions, we have only just reached a point where we can examine the effectiveness of our methods.
Our points of comparison are distorted too, as we can only compare our current situation with pre-pandemic working. But this is not a like-for-like equivalence. Working and studying through a pandemic has placed nearly everyone under great additional mental strain. Many of us have had to adjust our priorities, and these may change again as the threat of Covid-19 diminishes. With these changes, the best modes of working and learning may change too.
It’s certainly too soon to dismiss remote working and learning entirely – or to whole-heartedly support it. Over the coming months and years, we need to keep experimenting with different ways of doing things. There will be unavoidable costs associated with that, financially and otherwise. But if the compensation is that we find a way for future employees and students to work in more accessible, healthy, inclusive and effective ways, perhaps it’s worth it.