As the coronavirus crisis has escalated and with the government advising everybody who is able to do so to work from home, millions of us across the United Kingdom have had to quickly transform the way we work. At a time when we have been deluged with requests for help and information from constituents and businesses, my parliamentary office team has had to adapt quickly to working remotely, around the clock, to provide as much assistance as possible.
This has been a challenge but, as will undoubtedly have been the experience of so many others across the country, working from home is not the hindrance to productivity that it was often perceived to be. On the contrary, it is proving to offer several significant advantages.
The last six weeks have been frightening and hugely uncertain. With the situation being so fluid, and with an unceasing barrage of policy announcements, updates and information, I have been inundated with questions and requests for support. I have received hundreds of emails, calls and messages over social media each day and I, along with my team, have been working tirelessly to assist the people and businesses across my constituency of Ynys Môn.
We are working with some extremely vulnerable people and are trying to ensure that they get the support they need. We are also helping hundreds of businesses across the island to access government support that is available, as quickly as possible, to ensure that they can remain afloat and to keep their employees paid.
My office team, mostly appointed shortly before the crisis developed, have had to quickly adapt to working remotely while managing an unprecedented number of enquiries and requests for help. Working from home presents several challenges. It can be lonely; it can make managing the balance between home and work life more difficult and childcare is a huge challenge — especially for those with young children. More than once we have been joined by (and entertained by) the baby daughter of one of my team members on our daily Zoom meeting. Working from home can be lonely, and crucially, it is often difficult to provide the essential confidential setting that on office can provide.
However, the drawbacks of working from home are being overcome and our new temporary way of working has some significant advantages. These advantages are being experienced by millions of workers globally and could, and indeed should, revolutionise the way that many of us work.
Working from home provides an immediate increase to productivity as there is no time lost, or energy expended, in travelling to and from our offices. For many workers, especially those who face congested rush-hour roads and trains, commuting can be exhausting. Working from home can minimise fatigue and unproductive travel time, enabling us to be more efficient. Reducing fatigue and, being able to spend more time with our families and pursuing leisure activities, has clear physical and mental health benefits. And, crucially, reducing our need to travel helps us to minimise our carbon footprints.
The technology that we are utilising to facilitate working remotely has vast potential in helping our economy to decarbonise. Although meeting virtually each day over Zoom felt slightly unnatural at first, we are now able to achieve the same levels of productivity as when we were meeting in person. Going forward, many businesses and organisations will struggle to justify long-distance and international air travel for meetings, with the associated financial and environmental costs, when the same outcome can be obtained using virtual methods. It will require a cultural transformation, but it is achievable and should be encouraged.
There are still many challenges to overcome, both cultural and technological, but I believe that there will be many workers, and indeed employers, who will be in no rush to revert to traditional nine-to-five working practices once this crisis passes. Working from home offers significant environmental, financial and health benefits and I will be encouraging the government to support employers in facilitating remote working where it is appropriate and possible. I have opted to remain on Ynys Môn with my family just outside Holyhead as I want to be here supporting my constituents during this exceptional time and I will be joining parliament remotely. If even Westminster, with its notoriously arcane traditions and working practices, can adapt to virtual working then countless employers across the country will be able to capitalise on the benefits of remote working too.
Having said all this, I am very aware that for many, working from home is not an option, and that coronavirus is having a devastating impact on very many people in other ways. As our key workers continue to go to work with such fortitude to keep us safe, we must stay at home for them.
This article first appeared on The Times' website at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-what-its-like-working-from-home-as-an-mp-s6nxxrbnh