Working from home is working. The surprise development of mass remote working has been that there has been an increase in productivity for some workers. A survey carried out by CPL (2020) surveyed over 1,000 remote workers across Ireland and of those surveyed, 89% reported that their productivity is the same or higher than normal. Restrictions are easing and a combination of remote and office working is offering a way forward for those who want to return to their workplaces. In a recent LinkedIn poll, we asked our followers how frequently they believe that will be in the office. Most respondents indicated that they will probably be in the office 2-3 days per week. This would mean that there is still a significant number of people who will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. The continuation of remote working may not only be due to the pandemic, but also that it is offering more to employees. In understanding why, let’s look at some of the positive and not so positive developments of remote working.
Working remotely has had many positive effects. Some employers have reported increased productivity levels during the pandemic[DO1] (cipd.co.uk, 2021). It is unsurprising that there has been a reduction in day-to-day costs and eliminated daily commutes for employees however, the increase in productivity has been a positive but unexpected development. The reaction by organisations to this increase in productivity has seen large, international companies such as Twitter, offer a permanent work from home status to the employees who choose to do it (nbc.com, 2020.) Additionally, a sign that remote working is here to stay is the National Remote Work Strategy by the government, introduced in January 2021 (gov.ie). The positive effects of actions such as these by private companies and the Irish government are manifold. Employers could source remote workers from any geographic location and will be able to offer a much greater degree of flexibility to employees.
The positive effects of working from home are evident on a broad scale; however, the decisive effects on individuals are worth noting. Some employees have managed a better work / life balance, increased creative spark, reduced presenteeism, improved health and allows individuals to focus on performance away from noisy or distracting workplaces (cpl.ie, 2020.) Additionally, the anecdotal evidence suggests that some teams have made more effort to communicate by having video calls at the start of every day. These positive effects are heartening and highlight how remote working can really work.
What has not been working…
Communication – We have had to adjust the way we communicate during the pandemic. Employees have been missing the spontaneous interactions with colleagues and casual conversations during lockdown and are looking forward to this upon their return (Gensler, 2020.) Additionally, when much of our communication is through our demeanor and behaviour, those small but meaningful interactions are diminished if your main way of communicating with your manager or employees is by email or instant messaging. If your best style of communication is not the written word, it may lead to or require over communication with colleagues.
Cyber-attacks: The pandemic has, unfortunately highlighted the vulnerabilities of technology in organisations that have delayed upgrading IT or security systems. As a result of these vulnerabilities, there has been an increase in cyber-attacks on businesses. The sudden move to remote working created a need for employees to access applications and internal resources remotely that are not usually made available over VPN or the internet. An additional issue is that security controls have limited scalability and are time consuming to deploy. The combination of these factors made the sudden move to remote working riskier and more difficult (Baz, Alhakami, Agrawal et al., 2021.)
Loneliness / disconnection from colleagues – The mass experiment of working remotely does suit some people but it can engender isolation which can lead to a feeling of disconnection from colleagues or reduce the feeling of being part of a team. Although some employees have found that their work / life balance has improved by working remotely, the boundaries between work and home life are closer than ever, leading some to continue working longer and in some cases, this had led to burnout. Additionally, the lack of in person contact can create or exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
Managing employees – some managers have found it difficult to manage employees remotely due to trust issues and that working remotely requires a different types of management skills (Parker, Knight & Keller, 2020.) Boundaries between work and home life blur and have given rise to potentially increasing burnout, the uncertainty that the pandemic has created in general and employees not having an appropriate space or equipment to carry out their work have all had a negative effect on managing employees remotely. Consequently, awareness of an employee’s wellbeing either psychologically or physically has increased thus adding an additional concern for managers.
As indicated, the reasons why some employees have been more productive or less productive at home are varied and depend on personal circumstances.
So, why have workers really become more productive while working remotely?
The reasons why some workers have become more productive while working from home have depended on several reasons and oftentimes depend on the organisation and the type of work. Some reasons as to why workers are more productive while working remotely include the availability of technology and the readiness of an employer to adapt to remote working. Additionally, if a team that were working well together before enforced remote working, they have had a much higher chance of continuing to maintain a positive dynamic thus influencing their productivity (Garton & Mankins, 2020.)
The changes in the lives of workers have also influenced the level of productivity. The combination of managing several areas of life under one roof led to pandemic fatigue. However, some employers became creative at managing this unique type of weariness. Adobe, for example, towards the end of 2020 started giving their employees every third Friday of the month as a day off to recharge. The result of this action was that employee engagement increased and ‘enabled Adobe to tap into the discretionary energy of its workforce during covid 19’ (Garton & Mankins, 2020.) Consequently, it would seem that the culture of a business contributes to the levels of employee productivity in remote working.
The pandemic has given rise to the global experiment of mass remote working and has changed the perception of remote work for good. The positive and sometimes surprising economic and environmental results has surely cemented the place of remote working for future workers.
Baz, M, Alhakami, H, Agrawal, A, Baz, A & Khan, R.A., (2021) ‘Impact of Covid 19: A Cybersecurity Perspective’, Intelligent Automation & Soft Computing, Vol. 27, No. 3.
Byers, D, 12th May 2020, ‘Twitter employees can work from home forever, says CEO’ (https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/twitter-employees-can-work-home-forever-ceo-says-n1205346)
Garton, E & Mankins, M., (2020) ‘The Pandemic is Widening the Corporate Productivity Gap’, Harvard Business Review, (https://hbr.org/2020/12/the-pandemic-is-widening-a-corporate-productivity-gap)
‘Future Working Report: How to win and keep talent in a remote working world’, CPL, (Future Working Report – How to Win Talent in a Remote Working World. (cpl.com)
‘Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy’, Dept of Enterprise Trade & Employment, 15th of January 2021 (https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/51f84-making-remote-work-national-remote-work-strategy/)
‘More employers reporting increased productivity benefits from homeworking compared to last summer (cipd.co.uk, 1st April 2021) ( More employers reporting increased productivity benefits from homeworking compared to last summer, new CIPD research finds | CIPD)
Parker, S.K., Knight, C., & Keller, A (2020) ‘Remote managers are having trust issues’, Harvard Business Review, July 30th, 2020.
‘Remote Working National Survey Report May 2020’, (https://whitakerinstitute.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Remote-Working-National-Survey-Report-May-2020.pdf)