You are here

“In the office nine to five, five days a week… those days are gone”: qualitative exploration of diplomatic personnel’s experiences of remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic

Publication date: 

17 Nov 2022


BMC Psychology volume 10, Article number: 272 (2022)


Brooks SK, Hall CE, Patel D and Greenberg N

Publication type: 



Background Many employees had to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Literature suggests there are both challenges and benefits to remote working and that remote working can have detrimental effects on mental health. This study aimed to explore diplomatic personnel’s perceptions and experiences of working from home during the pandemic. Methods Twenty-five employees of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office took part in semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis was carried out to extract recurring themes from the data. Results Seven main themes emerged from the data: impact of the pandemic on work; relationships with colleagues; benefits of working from home; challenges of working from home; family; moving posts during the pandemic; and perceptions and predictions of post-pandemic work. Participants provided mixed views on how remote working had affected productivity and relationships with colleagues. Benefits of working from home included greater freedom and flexibility; new opportunities; and inclusivity of remote meetings. Challenges included being in different time zones to the countries they were working for; unsuitable home ergonomics; technological issues; and difficulties finding appropriate work-life balance. Those with young children reported difficulties juggling work and childcare. Adjusting to new posts at a time when staff were working remotely appeared particularly challenging. However, most did not want or expect to return to entirely office-based work. They predicted a hybrid model of working in the future, involving both office work and remote work; they stressed the importance of flexibility and suggested there would not be a one-size-fits-all approach to returning to face-to-face work. Conclusions Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways in which employees work, showing them that they do not have to be in the office to successfully achieve their work goals and leaving many wanting flexibility to make their own decisions about working from home (or not). There are both benefits and challenges to remote working; managers can take steps to reduce some of the challenges by being available to support their employees, organising regular remote meetings and allowing employees autonomy in terms of when and where they work.