Far from seeing a decrease in productivity as the coronavirus pandemic forces millions of people to work from, businesses may actually see an increase in productivity, if recent studies are to be believed.
The coronavirus has seen the largest global mass exercise in remote working ever seen as social distancing becomes part of our collective vocabulary.
With millions of people now working remotely from home across the globe, it’s understandable that heads of departments and CEOs may be worried that productivity will drop.
Managers and business owners may envision their employees lounging around in their pyjamas all day long binging on their favourite TV show, but research has long shown that nothing could be further from the truth.
Studies have shown that remote working actually increases productivity, thereby creating employees who are harder working, more focused, and happier. As such, employees working from home are far more likely to be loyal, reducing staff turnover and recruitment costs.
Over the last decade, there has been a steady increase in remote working as companies and business owners become more aware of the benefits of working from home.
For example, in the UK the last 10 years has seen a two-fold increase in the number of people working from home – up to some 1.54 million people. However, many companies have remained anxious about fully embracing the concept of allowing employees to work from home; until Covid-19.
Where businesses may have been reluctant to allow employees to work from home in the past, the outbreak has now forced companies to allow their entire teams to work from home, stress-testing remote working at its most extreme.
Benefits of working from home: increase in productivity
A ground-breaking two-year study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom included definitive data points that highlighted the benefits to both employer and employee of working from home, including an increase in productivity.
The study, the largest on the benefits of working from home and increased productivity to date, monitored some 16,000 employees.
Of particular note, the study showed a 13% productivity increase as a result of working from home, with more minutes worked and more work done per minute.
The data highlighted that employee attrition also decreased by 50%, with employees taking shorter breaks, fewer sick days, and taking less time off. It also highlighted how employees found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.
The company that participated in the study – Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency – also saved nearly US$2,000 per employee on rent by reducing their office footprint.
However, the one negative that the study did note was that almost half the employees found working from home all the time isolating. Once the study was over, many employees opted for flexible working conditions – the ability to work from home or the office when they chose, giving them the best of both worlds; social interaction with work colleagues when necessary, coupled with the myriad benefits of working from home.
Developing a sustainable future
It’s not just employees and employers that reap the benefits of working from home – the environment benefits hugely too, as a result of a radical reduction in the number of people required to commute to work. As the world rushes to a “hot house” tipping point of no return, the race is on to find more sustainable ways to live.
The coronavirus pandemic has already led to a huge drop in air pollution, as employees ditch their daily commute and embrace the benefits of working from home.
Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency highlights that since the start of the global outbreak levels of nitrogen dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by road traffic and industrial factories, has significantly declined over cities and industrial clusters across Europe and Asia. Northern Italy, one of the regions hit the hardest by the virus, has seen its nitrogen dioxide levels drop by some 40%. Another study by Carbon Brief showed that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by some 25% in China.
And, who can’t be moved by the pictures from Venice, showing clear canal waters filled with an abundance of wildlife thanks to the dramatic reduction in gas-guzzling motorboat taxis?
Creating the infrastructure
Of course, there are many jobs that simply can’t be done remotely, but for most office-based workers it is eminently feasible for them to enjoy the myriad benefits of working from home. Sophisticated digital platforms allow teams to stay connected, virtually, like never before.
At Relevance, our sophisticated digital infrastructure allowed our team to adapt easily to remote working, utilising tools such as Monday, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Slack. The time-keeping tool Harvest allows employees to track their time, as well as heads of department to monitor what their team is spending time on, ensuring productivity is maintained. And, with team members across the globe, many staff members at Relevance are used to holding online meetings.
We begin our days with a virtual coffee-meeting where all staff members are welcome to join, then end our week with Virtual Vino, an informal group chat on Google Hangouts. And, we still keep holding our weekly training sessions, where more than 30 plus staff log-on virtually to share knowledge and information on the latest digital trends.
Now some four weeks into staff working from home, Relevance has been able to tentatively measure the benefits of working from home, which include a marked increase in productivity.
A new office culture
Although enforced, the coronavirus could see a seismic change in office culture.
I, like many, will miss the freedom that working remotely allows when we revert to our old system, from enjoying lunch at home to having more time to hang out with my daughter. As a writer, I particularly enjoy the peace and quiet, just one of the many benefits of working from home. Others, of course, will welcome the opportunity to get back into a more set routine that office life brings.
It’s relatively early on in the coronavirus crisis for any real data to come from businesses whose entire teams have been required to work remotely, and to accurately track whether there has indeed been an increase in productivity.
Many pundits are predicting an up tick in remote workers once the virus ends as companies realise the benefits of working from home. Employers may also find it difficult to argue that working from home will not work, or is too complex to set up, if the remote working, enforced by Covid-19 does indeed support previous research and proves it is easily achievable for the vast majority of businesses.
Will remote working due to Covid-19 actually result in an increase in productivity? Will working from home post-pandemic become the new normal? Only time will tell.