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Is Working From Home the New Normal for Town Planners?

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Is Working From Home the New Normal for Town Planners?

​COVID-19 has forced companies all over the world to send their employees home to work virtually and overnight remote working became a more prominent fixture in our lives. This short article discusses some advantages and disadvantages of working from home and the affect it has on IR35.

There was a massive rush from employees and employers to get all the necessary tools required to work from home, but after everyone had settled in it had quickly become apparent to many office based teams that employees could be as productive and focussed working from home. This has led to almost everyone understanding that remote working really can be effective.

With the government urging people to get back into the office where safe to do so in order to support local business but with a potential second wave and lockdown imminent, what will the future of remote working look like in a post pandemic world? Will companies go back to 5 days a week in the office or will home working be the “new normal”?

I have been speaking to many clients and candidates over the last few months to get their thoughts and opinions on home working and if they think they should return to the office. Most of the local planning authorities are still all working from home with many not even considering going back until at least 2021. Some have been back in the office once a week on a rota type basis and others have not seen the office since March, only conducting site visits once a week or once fortnightly.

There are many advantages to being able to work from home: 

  • Money savings with reduced costs for both the employer and the employee. Reduced cost in rent for office space, reduce building maintenance, electricity, security etc. and no cost for commuting or childcare for those hours spent commuting

  • A better work life balance   

  • No stress of commuting from traffic or public transport 

  • Impact on sustainability

  • Increased productivity   

  • Wider pool of candidates to recruit from, location becomes less important

  • All the above which could contribute to a happier mood

However, with anything there are also disadvantages and working from home is no exception to this:

  • Lack of communication

  • Difficulty to manage and maintain accountability   

  • IT and data security concerns

  • Loss of social interactions and events

  • Separation between work and leisure

  • More distractions

  • Initial difficulty hiring new recruits as harder to train and show them how tasks need to be completed.

Studies carried out by Owl Labs before COVID-19 have shown that full time remote workers reported being happy in their job by more than 22% who were office based. Remote workers reported having better work-life balance, focus and less stress. Companies that give workers more flexibility were more likely to retain them. Remote workers will also work longer hours. The same study again completed before the pandemic reported that remote workers worked over 40 hours per week, a total of 43% more than non-remote workers.

Before COVID-19 many local authorities were already trying to implement a more flexible working approach and most had introduced hot desking. Hot desking is something that most probably will not be able to be continued, at least for the moment, as all equipment used would need to be cleaned very well before used by another. For contractors, flexible working and working from home was sometimes part of the package as a vast majority would travel further and/or stay away during the week for a contract position. Home working has now enabled local authorities to overcome the constraints of geography and reach a wider pool of candidates, for contract and permanent roles.

It has also had an impact on the IR35 status of the role. It is no secret that when a position is determined as being outside IR35 it becomes more attractive for a contractor to apply for. With working from home arrangements in place contractors can more easily demonstrate they are working independently and are not under control and supervision and not using office equipment, so could be determined as outside IR35. However, this is now the same for permanent employees and because they have the same working pattern as permanent employees it does not do enough to determine the role outside IR35.

I am keen to know if the positives outweigh the negatives, and should we expect employers to allow us the freedom to work from home whenever we want? Should we never work in the office again? Should there be a mix between working in the office and working from home? What is your preference working in the office or working from home?

For more information about current remote working opportunities in the town planning sector nationwide, please reach out to me.

023 9387 6034