MILLIONS of people have now spent a year working from home – so how's it going?

Poole-based Matt Desmier, who advises brands via his business Wise Old Uncle, has been home-based for a decade.

But he draws a distinction between nine years of working at home and one year of being “at home trying to work” in a full house.

“For nine years pre-Covid, my office was wherever I laid my hat,” he said.

“I had routines. I knew how to manage my mental health, the loneliness, the wandering mind and my desire to eat everything in sight.

“Nowadays my office is nowhere. What routines I had have dissipated like my livelihood. My mental health is in tatters, my mind constantly wanders and I've put on a stone since the first lockdown.

“Okay, so perhaps it's not that bad. Exercise has been the thing that has saved me. Exercise and noise-cancelling headphones.”

Nick Hixson, who runs the Charminster accountancy and business advisory business Hixsons, ensured his staff had decent desks, monitors and chairs at home, delivering their office equipment to them where necessary. Once a month, food is delivered from Bournemouth business Lunch’d.

“I think productivity dropped off initially and I didn’t say a word about it and I didn’t think I should,” said Mr Hixson.

“I think it’s back to what it was now because they’re settled into the rhythm of working at home.”

Warren Munson, founder of the Poole business advisory firm Inspire, has provided virtual socials including quizzes, horse racing and a Christmas party.

“The critical thing for our team has been wellbeing and how we make sure we’re supporting them within their working remit,” he said.

Gordon Fong is director of the data hosting business Kimcell in Bournemouth and Winfrith, responsible for keeping technology working so that other businesses could work from home.

“I get slightly annoyed by proclamations from a certain profile of business owners who declare, ‘We don’t need an office any more’,” he said.

“In my view they, or their senior management team, are able to embrace the new world of remote working, and shutting the office for good, because they are much further down the road in life. They have a nice stable home, with many rooms, a study even, a garden, or a kitchen diner to spread out in.

“However, for younger workers, leaving their place of abode, be it a family home or shared dwelling with friends or strangers, gives a valuable differentiation in their lives. It creates space.”

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber, said: “Our experience is that we’ve all learned new and efficient ways of working, particularly through the mainstream adoption of video conferencing, and my hope is we continue to innovate and take forward the positives from the last 12 months.

“But there is no doubt productivity will have suffered for many businesses and working from home will have been a real challenge for many, particularly people who live alone who may have felt very isolated over this time.”

Tom Doherty is managing director of the HR Dept in East Dorset and the New Forest, advising small and medium sized firms on personnel issues.

“The main disadvantages highlighted about working from home have been issues with communication, people not being as productive or overworking, lack of team bonding/working together and wanting to use the resources/space they have to accommodate their staff,” he said.

“It is a fine balance because it has had many advantages but ultimately comes down to the nature of the role someone does, the business they operate in and the commercial needs of the business.”

Many bosses are expecting a mix of remote working and time in the office.

Nick Hixson said of his business: “I think we will end up with a hybrid solution. We’ll come back to the office but not four or five times a week. We’re all set up to work at home and as long as the work gets done, frankly I don’t care.”

Tom Doherty said could all depend on the size of the business you work for. “Though there have been plenty of examples of large corporate business, like banks, reducing their footprint of office sizes and finding more reasons to create more opportunities for hybrid working, it just may not be right to a small business,” he said.

Warren Munson of Inspire has three core staff in the office now but intends to phase in the wider return to work. After June 21, the business is likely to require people to be at the office on Mondays and Wednesdays only.

Ian Girling of Dorset Chamber said: “We will have all got used to certain ways of working over the last year and my view is we need to take a planned and structured approach to give people time to adapt and adjust – and let’s hang on to the positives and not just return to old ways of working.”

When it comes to staying healthy and productive through home working, there are four principles to follow, according to a veteran home worker, Bournemouth-based Katie Marlow, who runs Little Bird Communication.

She urges people to follow four principles: Give your day structure. Make your space work for you. Look after yourself. And create connections.

“Everyone's experience of working through lockdown is different. A lot of people I talk with are working harder and at a pace they've never worked at before whilst doing it all at home with their family and other personal commitments alongside. It can easily feel overwhelming and exhausting, so it's more important than ever to prioritise yourself and consciously make time for you,” she said.