When the UK went into lockdown in 2020, many companies were forced to re-evaluate their workplace culture. Overnight, people who had previously thought they should be strapped to a desk in an ordinary office found themselves browsing the internet for advice on how to convert the ironing board into a Pinterest-worthy home office.
Lockdown inadvertently created the perfect lab environment to measure how working from home affects productivity on a large scale, across multiple sectors and seniority levels, with defined output in a fixed-state environment.
Workers across all industries were thrown out of their comfort zones, which triggered an accidental but highly valuable social experiment across the UK.
85% of Employees Say They Are More Productive When Working From Home
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recently funded a study entitled Work After Lockdown, which is part of UK Research and Innovation's rapid response to Covid-19.
When surveyed, 85% of employees reported they get more done when they work from home, and assessed themselves as generally more productive on the whole. In the same study, 82% of employees felt working from home made them miss informal communication with colleagues in the office.
The survey revealed most people feel more productive when they work from home, but suggests home working plays a major role in people's mental health and overall wellbeing.
What Factors May be Affecting Work From Home Productivity?
The Home Environment
Cardiff University conducted a study of 6000 to 7000 home workers at the end of April, May and June 2020 to assess changes in their productivity levels while they were working from home during lockdown. Overall, productivity increased across most industries.
The surveys revealed that workers who worked from home all of the time showed a greater increase in productivity than employees who worked some of the time from home, and some of the time in the office.
The results of this study can in part be attributed to the home environment. Full-time remote workers are more likely to have developed their remote work style, the way they work away from the office. Their home office setup plays a big part, tending to view their work-from-home environment as separate entity to their living environment. This establishes clear mental zones, and helps stimulate a positive attitude while in the work zone.
Homeworkers who view remote working as temporary are less likely to develop they way they work effectively when remote. How to focus on tasks, plan your day, and even control of multitasking to avoid work blending into other activities.
During Covid remote working home responsibilities like childcare have played a large part in how people have had to plan their day. The next periods of remote with less at home distraction will be hugely influential on how well companies perceive employee productivity whilst working flexibly.
Access to Green Space
According to the Office for National Statistics, 12% of all UK homes, and 21% of homes in London, do not have access to private outdoor space.
The pandemic has highlighted the wealth divide, as homes with private outdoor space are more likely to be owned by those in high-paying jobs, whereas people in lower income positions are more likely to live in flats or smaller homes without access to outdoor space.
Commuting has also had an impact on exposure to green space. Those who previously spent up to 2 hours per day commuting were better able to enjoy parks and green spaces close to home due to an increase in free time.
The Cardiff study concluded that those who were able to bring more outdoor space into their day as a result of shifting to home working enjoyed increased productivity, and those who previously walked to work, or found themselves working in a cramped or crowded environment at home, showed reduced productivity.
The Work After Lockdown study has found most people are more productive when they work from home, at a cost to mental health for some people.
Employees with a strong sense of balance, high resilience and the ability to adapt easily have taken well to home working, which has led to increased productivity, but remote workers who have a high-productivity mentality are more likely to push themselves towards burnout, and are less likely to foster a healthy work-life balance in favour of working too much. This is expected to reduce productivity in the long-term.
Line managers who have taken on extra responsibilities to support remote teams are particularly vulnerable to overworking themselves, which negatively affects mental health as they are less likely to switch off.
Those who struggle with change or feel isolated have experienced reduced productivity, but remote employees who feel more supported by management at home show home working to have a positive impact on their mental health.
Forced home working coincided with the closure of schools, and led to many families with caring needs to adjust their existing routine.
Remote workers who have additional day-time responsibilities, such as child care and home schooling, are less productive at home than they are in the office during office hours, but can be more productive overall.
Remote working has opened opportunities for flexible hours, which means people with circumstantial challenges at home are often able to work at more convenient times, which creates a good work-life balance with increased productivity.
Big Companies are Offering Permanent Remote Work After Lockdown
The unique social experiment created during lockdown has led many companies across the world to evaluate their corporate attitude towards remote and flexible working. Large companies are now recognising the benefits of allowing employees to control their working day with flexible contracts.
Twitter and Square, both led by Jack Dorsey, have said all employees can work from home permanently. Recruitment firm, Indeed, has announced that remote working will be made available to all employees permanently on a case-by-case basis.
Hitachi, a Japanese-based conglomerate firm, has committed to 70% of all staff worldwide being able to work remotely indefinitely, and Microsoft has said all employees may now work a maximum of 50% of their time remotely without needing prior approval.
Technology giant, Google, has announced that from September 2021, all employees will need to work a minimum of 3 days in the office, and the rest of the time may work from home as and when they choose to.
Near Home Working Offers a Hybrid Solution
The Welsh Government aims to have 30% of all employees shifting to permanent remote work after the pandemic. Their solution is to create third place, near work hubs, which are located between home and the office and within walking or cycling distance from home.
Co-working establishments offer home-based employees the opportunity to work in an office environment some of the time, on a flexible schedule. This breaks the monotony of working from home, shortens commutes for greener living, facilitates informal chat with other workers to improve mental health, and maintains all of the flexibility benefits enjoyed by home workers to increase productivity.
Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport in Wales, said:
"We are also conscious of the needs of those for whom - for various reasons - home working is not a viable option, and will be exploring how a network of community-based remote working hubs could be created in communities."
The UK Research and Innovation's Work After Lockdown study discovered 77% to 80% of all employees who have worked from home during lockdown will wish to continue working from home on a permanent basis.
While working from home shows overwhelming evidence of increased productivity for most people, it does carry the risk of some employees pushing themselves towards burnout, and shows decreased mental health in people who draw energy from informal relationships and friendships formed in the office.
The future of home working looks bright for companies, local communities and employees. Hybrid working models, co-working spaces, and near home working hubs in third place locations are an ideal solution.
Allowing employees to work a balanced schedule between home, the office and an interim location cuts down on commute times, reduces the carbon footprint, gives people opportunities for social interactions at work, and takes full advantage of the increased productivity enjoyed by most remote workers.
Frequently asked questions
❓ Does Flexibly Working increase productivity?
Recent reviews of productivity for flexible workers suggest it increases the performance of individuals and teams across a range of measures. Most recently the link to reduce interruptions and better-focused effort from remote through covid have been leading the trend. As with many things, it will depend on many factors in terms of both the companies culture or attitude to flexible working as well as the way the worker approaches it. Providing support to improve employees homework setup and coaching on effectiveness when working remote are important elements in enhancing companies flexible work styles.
🗓️ How does Flexible Working increase productivity?
There are many factors that could positively impact productivity but the main areas cited in studies are:
- Trust - employees that are trusted tend to perform better and increased autonomy when working flexibly is a strong indicator of employee trust
- Focus - reduced distractions and the ability to focus increase performance
- Reduced commute - the reduced commute has led to people working more hours when remote, this can be seen as a negative and the EU's right to disconnect legislation is aimed at redressing
- Wellbeing - people tend to be more productive as their well-being increases and is a big focus for organisations