COVID-19 has changed the way many of us work. People, who never worked virtually, have now become accustomed to it. Some companies are trying to blend the two approaches by alternating when staffers work at home and when they come to the office. Will that become the new normal?
Let’s look at what research tells us about the virtual work experience. It’s counterintuitive, but a Gallup study from 2017 showed that employees working remotely worked more, not less. In fact, they logged up to four more hours a week than when in the office. 65% of employees reported having higher productivity working virtually. What’s more, virtual employees took less time off, sometimes working when sick or continuing to work after hours from home. In the Gallup study, employees said they felt less distracted – not more – because they weren’t disturbed by long meetings, noisy coworkers and hallway conversations. (To see more pros and cons of working in an office environment, see my posts on “Do Open Office Spaces Lead To Open Communications” and “Does Working Together Beat Working Alone.”)
In 2020, my clients are split – those without school-age children LOVE working virtually and feel they are getting a lot more done. Those with children who are doing virtual learning tell me they are distracted because their kids see them and want to interact with them. Not a factor in the 2017 Gallup study. The exception are working parents who have significant commutes to their offices – many of them are now able to work when they normally would be in the car, and they see that as much more efficient.
On the productivity side, I’ve read that remote workers are often more productive because they know they will be judged entirely on their output. In an office, someone can appear to be busy, but they are actually online checking social media, playing games or making personal phone calls. As a consultant to a number of businesses, I have been brought in to change those behaviors through my work with both individuals and teams. I can’t think of an instance where management had that issue with virtual workers. Yes, they probably took breaks to play on social media, but it didn’t matter because they got their work done and did not distract coworkers.
What about collaboration? The Gallup study shows that remote workers are very collaborative. The reason: when people are working out of the office, they often go out of their way to connect with their associates. Remote workers have to make an effort to collaborate, and most do, because they miss the interaction with coworkers and want to connect.
As an added bonus to both employees and employers, those who work from home tend to be happier with their jobs. Even if they are only working remotely part of the time, they report higher overall job satisfaction, which translates into fewer turnovers. Being able to work in shorts, and not having to worry about how your hair looks is just more comfortable. Personally, I find it nice to skip putting on makeup everyday.
A lot of questions come up for the post-Coronavirus world: Will companies save on office space expenses because they see they don’t really need it? Or, will businesses find it difficult to maintain their culture when people work virtually? We won’t know the answers for at least a year, but I’d be interested in your opinions. What do you think will be the post-pandemic work model?