The research and other interesting facts.
What was working from home prior to Covid-19?
There was a growing trend for employees to work from home before Covid-19. The initial reason was to reduce company costs by reducing floor space. Today floor space costs on average $11,000 per part time employee.
This trend continued with advances in technology and social requirements for flexible working arrangements.
In addition, many people had found working from home was more productive because they were not continually interrupted by working in a noisy open plan environment.
Dan Schawbel, is a market researcher on workplace intelligence and his research suggest prior to Covid-19 that:
- A third of the global workforce worked from home sometimes or often. However, two thirds of workers who work from home were disengaged.
- The loyalty to the company reduced and were less likely to work for the company long term.
- Loneliness and isolation had the same health impact of smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
- The evidence was so compelling that Apple actively moved people back to the office and built a space that could hold 16,000 employees.
What is considered the best balance between working from home and coming into the office?
Adam Grant is an American psychology professor who specialises in organisational development. He has conducted research on the impact on people’s satisfaction and performance from working from home.
His research states if people work in the office at least two days a week there is no change to either satisfaction or performance.
He refers to a study of Call Centre staff who worked from home full time. Their productivity increased by 13% but they were more likely to quit their jobs after six months.
What is different about working from home with Covid-19?
Prior to Covid -19 people who worked from home mostly chose to. They “opted in” and primarily had the technological tools to do so.
Many people who worked from home often did so by accessing flexible work arrangements, which enabled them to maintain social contact.
When Covid-19 arrived all employees, where possible, were told to work from home. Some employees who had worked from home in the past had few issues while others lacked, technology, expertise or an appropriate environment to work from home.
If you are working from home at the company’s bequest it is important that your place of employment, which is now your home, is safe.
- Many companies were well prepared and provided all the technology to work from home. They ensured employees had an ergonomically and safe home working environment and checked this by doing a virtual video of the work area.
- Others provided virtual social activities and games online, delivered hampers to homes and regularly checked in with staff.
- Other organisation told employees to sign a form saying their home working arrangements were safe to do so. The implication was if they did not sign, they would not have work. They had to provide their own equipment and technology costs.
It appeared the level of support for employees often depended on the amount of economic stress the company was under, the resources available and if they viewed working conditions as important.
One unintended consequence going forward is potentially an increasing economic divided between white collar workers based on the degree of economic support provided by the employer.
Is virtual teamwork as effective as face to face?
According to Associate Professor Mark Mortensen, you have to work harder to be an effective virtual team. He says:
- The human brain has been wired to work face to face, working virtually is a new phenomenon.
- Getting the ground rules right is very important including how, when and how many people work together.
- It is often difficult working with virtual big teams. “Social Loafing” is not uncommon with fewer people able to actively participate. Keeping numbers down with critical skills is important.
- There is no shared context with simple things like the weather or time zones to build the simple social rapport. Effort building social rapport is therefore required.
- Working with on multiple teams on different projects can limit people having enough time getting to know people and building trust. The focus on only getting the task done can be an incubator for loneliness and dissatisfaction.
Will working from home become the new normal for white collar workers?
Social distancing is changing how the office spaces are going to function. This is likely to add more cost and complexity. For example, companies are already considering:
- Staggering work hours. People travelling to work at different times.
- Temperature checks for everyone on arrival to work.
- Strict work times to ensure stringent cleaning requirements.
- Desks placed further apart made of materials less likely to harbour viruses.
- No communal areas.
- Personalised eating utensils.
- Coloured square carpet so people ensure they stand the appropriate distance apart.
- Reprograming lifts to reduce the amount of people in them at one time.
- Redesigning floor spaces to ensure social distancing.
As office space agreements come up for negotiations it will depend on the cost of floor space and the value the company has on people collecting together in an office.
Combine this with employers in America already anticipating increase in lawsuits taken against companies that don’t protect their employees from Covid-19, working from home is certainly more likely to be the new normal. The question is how?
How will organisations ensure productivity if people are working from home?
There is a view that organisations have been forced to trust people to work from home due to Covid-19 and as a consequence a lot has been gained. There is a reduction in time spent in meetings, travelling time and corridor conversations. People can just focus on getting the job done and can structure their time to meet their work life balance requirements.
The current systems may not be perfect however they will improve as working from home becomes the new normal. People will adjust to get their social needs met and productivity will flow.
However, to my knowledge and that of the experts I have spoken to there is no concrete measures of white-collar productivity and working from home may add to that complexity.
As a consequence, it is anticipated that many companies will continue investing in employee monitoring systems to maximise productivity and the intention would be to continue this in the home environment. These will specifically include biometric data like interpreting eyeball movements on screens. The implications of outsourcing work to the home environment will continue to provide potential legal and policy challenges that need to be considered.
Working from home has many upsides. However, the research prior to Covid-19 suggests there is considerable downsides particularly for some employees working from home full time. Before decisions are made, other factors other than immediate upfront costs and inconvenience need to be considered. Unintended consequences which may create long term costs need to be factored into the decision making.