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Does remote working make us more or less productive?

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The COVID-19 pandemic turned the workplace upside down, with significant share of the workforce becoming temporarily remote.

With widespread vaccination available and improved but persistent health concerns tied to the pandemic still remaining, companies are facing important decisions on whether to make the shift to remote work permanent or have employees return to the office – and how this can be accomplished most effectively.

Companies and managers no doubt have a wide range of considerations on what makes sense for their organizations, and among those is the employee set of preferences and perspective.

For employees who have “settled into” remote work – and for those who haven’t – what are the costs and benefits of returning to work onsite?

In what ways do employees who have already returned to the office, or never left, say that on-site work is better than remote work – and vice versa?

To answer these questions and better understand the opportunities and challenges of returning to on-site work
from the lens of employees, ADPRI conducted a survey of 9,000 employees in the U.S. who either worked
remotely or on-site at workplace locations) during the pandemic.

The comparisons between the experience of remote and on-site workers provides unique insight into the benefits and struggles of each work arrangement and how those experiences vary by industry in the new post-pandemic world of work.

The survey results revealed in this report, “On-site, Remote or Hybrid: Employee Sentiment on the Workplace“, is that on the whole, employees working on-site enjoy crucial advantages over their remote counterparts, particularly in terms of perceived amount of social interaction, work boundaries, and career opportunities.

This is true regardless of whether employees are in sectors that are conducive to remote working or those who typically require in-person or on-site work.

Yet, the experience of remote working – now seen from a much larger population than ever before – has its own set of advantages.

A recent study of more than 30,000 US employees claimed that one day per week spent working from home could boost productivity by 4.8%. Time spent working rather than commuting to work was largely responsible for that estimate.

Post-pandemic, there may be demand for companies to weave these perks into the new “normal” of work.

  1. Social Factors

Social connection, promotion opportunities and work / life boundaries are the most cited benefits of on-site work according to employees, and should be a critical area of investigation for firms.

Factors to consider include:

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  • The promise of social experience, more spontaneous conversations, and a deeper connection with teammates and other colleagues.
  • Returning to a “normal” workday with cleaner breaks between work and home.
  • To both be seen and feel that they are being seen when it comes to hiring and promotions (especially for companies that instituted hiring/promotion freezes during COVID).
  1. Flexibility

Provide additional support and flexibility in areas where employees may need help acclimating to the change from remote to on-site work:

  • Employees may miss the “team spirit” that flourished in teams of remote workers during the pandemic. Remote workers surveyed since the pandemic are more likely to say their team is “collaborative” and “supportive” and less
  • likely to say it is “gossipy” and “cliquish” than on-site workers.
    Action: A concerted effort to foster a more collective team dynamic that transcends preferential connections (similar to the onset of the pandemic) may be helpful.
  • Employees may prefer the flexibility in work hours (time of work) and location.
    Action: Provide employees with the option of a hybrid schedule to ease the transition. It may even promote a new “norm” for work that leverages the best of both remote and on-site working. Employees with family responsibilities may also benefit from the added flexibility to attend to personal and care related needs as their families transition to post-pandemic life.
  • Employees may prefer the independence of working from home.
    Action: Promote regular connection and feedback with their manager (especially when on-site/in-person), yet allow the trust and independence established during remote working to continue.

3. Communication

Certain groups may require special attention from companies and managers in the transition from remote to on-site work:

  • Recent college graduates are more likely than other groups to get “lost in the shuffle” of returning to an environment of more spontaneous communication on-site and perceive less of a collaborative and more of a “gossipy” feel on their team.
    Action: Managers and companies should foster team building that is targeted to recent college graduates, in order to ensure this group don’t lose out on essential team support and mentoring.
  • Employees whose manager is in a different location may experience fewer improvements to communication with their manager, despite being back in the office, than employees whose manager is in the same office.
    Action: Managers should continue to employ communication methods and frequency used during remote work to ensure communication with direct reports, including conveying progress and workload, doesn’t deteriorate.

50% of UK workers more productive working from home

6th July 2020: Half of homeworkers admit they get more done when working from home according to a report published recently.

The study has revealed that once lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, 32% of workers will look to work from home on a daily basis. This comes after lockdown forced so many office workers to make the switch to remote working to combat the spread of COVID-19. Only 18% now prefer the traditional office environment and this could mean a significant change for employers who may become inundated with requests to carry on homeworking.

The study, carried out Cartridge People, only 13% confessed to feeling easily distracted when working from home. The added flexibility of remote working is highlighted by the 22% of people who work outside of office hours. In fact, only 38% keep to the 9am-5pm traditional routine of office life.

In the past, remote working could be viewed as problematic for those who suffer from loneliness.
However, the advances in technology and changes to the way meetings can be held could be the reason why 58% say they never feel lonely when working from home. That being said, the report did find that 14% often felt lonely and this will be a concern for workers who may have heard rumours of their business becoming fully remote working once lockdown is over.

Commenting on the findings, Claire Conlaund, Managing Director at The Skills Network , said:

“The research clearly shows that staff can find some real value in working from home, especially around their time management and self-worth. When restrictions ease, businesses should speak to their staff and discuss how potentially introducing more flexible working arrangements could benefit them, from both a wellbeing and productivity point of view (extending these benefits post-
lockdown).

“Businesses need to keep a close eye on the wellbeing of those staff working remotely, and really level up their approach to line management, mental health awareness and staff resilience.”

The study also revealed that just 1% actually disliked homeworking, again maybe a number that is small due to the relative ease in which office workers can now switch to a remote location. 60% say they’re actually enjoying WFH at the moment.

“Cartridge People’s ‘Small Office Home Office Report’ has uncovered how the traditional UK office may be a thing of the past following the COVID-19 pandemic. With such a huge shift to homeworking during lockdown, it’s clear to see that many are starting to view this as the new norm and businesses may need to prepare themselves for employees looking for more flexibility in working from home.

“This may include covering extra costs such as printing at home where people will no longer have the traditional office machine to rely upon. It will be interesting in the months ahead to see how habits change and whether the ‘remote office’ replaces that office that so many of us have become accustomed to over the years,” commented John Flanagan, Managing Director, Cartridge People.

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