It certainly wasn’t intentional for most companies, but 2020 became the year of mass working from home – with it becoming the norm through necessity due to the coronavirus pandemic and the safety restrictions put into place. Overnight, millions of people were made to work from home even if they never had before, and it has certainly changed the working practices of many over a longer term than ever imagined. A change in ‘business as usual’ for so many has served well as an experiment in productivity, adaptability and agile working – but does the age-old idea that we all slack off when we’re working from our sofas really pan out when put to the test?
Working from home has, in many industries, long held the stigma that it wasn’t productive and was an ‘easy’ part-time working option that allowed for less work and more recreation to take place without proper management or supervision in place. In practice, that wasn’t always the case (a great many companies facilitating home workers have long had monitoring mechanisms in place for remote management), but the question of productivity has been difficult to analyse due to the lack of those working both from home and in a workplace in equal measure. Of course, COVID-19 has quickly provided a large pool of such workers to study!
The productivity of those working from home does vary on several factors – how productivity is defined and monitored, how adaptable the role is to suit the technology and work setup at home, and the personality of the individual worker. Whilst some report enjoying working from home and have an ideal office space within which to work from, others are unable to access the same technology as they would in their workplace, don’t have a proper desk, or are surrounded by distractions (namely through lockdown periods in the form of children!).
Pre-pandemic, in 2013, Bloom worked with a Chinese online travel agency called CTrip to monitor the productivity of staff through their task completion. Half of the staff were switched to home working 4 out of 5 days a week, and the other half remained in the office week-long. Over a 9-month period, it was found that those working from home actually completed 13% more tasks than those in the office. This productivity was attributed to two factors: a lack of distractions facilitating the completion of more tasks per minutes, and no commutes or long breaks allowing for longer work hours per shift.
UK phone provider Talk Talk have surveyed those remote working due to the pandemic and advise even greater increases: with 58% believing they’re more productive, and 30% of management believing their teams are working more efficiently. Should this be the case across a wider pool of workers surveyed, this could be hugely beneficial for employers – and could change the world of HR forever!
Whether or not brands encourage employees to return to work as the country recovers from this crisis remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: workers certainly like to have the choice.