We are gradually approaching a new year, and it's already quite obvious that remote work will remain one of the main trends in 2021. So, it seems like the perfect time to recap some of the lessons we learned throughout 2020 and figure out how remote work affects our productivity.
Survey data: are we doing well?
The best way to find out how a particular factor is affecting a company is to ask questions. Having done a quick search, we found dozens of studies that are based on surveys, most of which paint a pretty rosy picture:
- 94% of respondents surveyed by Mercer claim to have seen their productivity increase or remain the same since they switched to remote work;
- KPMG gathered feedback from large U.S. companies (that have more than 1,000 employees on staff), and 79% of employees noted an increase in the quality of their work and their productivity;
- Valoir stated that remote work has influenced the decrease of overall employee productivity by no more than 1%
And the list goes on. We should also note here that researchers have been focusing primarily on tech companies, since these specialists have more experience in organizing remote work process and have better infrastructure. After all, if the tech guys did it, everyone else can do it as well. But is it actually the same for other people?
It gets worse the more time passes
Nearly all of the studies that positively assess the ways remote work affects productivity share one common thing – they were conducted either in the spring or in the early summer of this year. It basically means that the respondents were evaluating the occurring changes relying on their experiences during the first few months of remote work.
Why is it important? The answer is simple, really. People are social creatures; communication together with social interactions fulfills our basic needs. The longer people stay in forced isolation, the greater the discomfort they feel as a result of loneliness.
Another important point is that many people don’t have the technology and network connection needed to make the process of working from home sufficiently comfortable for them. Slow computer, low Internet speed, high ping – even in the U.S. approximately 35% of remote workers are experiencing similar problems. During the first months of quarantine it seemed relatively easy to put up with such things, treating the situation merely as a temporary hardship. But the longer these issues continue, the stronger the accumulated stress becomes.
All these factors contribute to an altered perception of remote work and, consequently, to changes in productivity. Vokon reported that in April 56% of organizations ranked remote workers’ productivity quite highly, but in October-November 40% of companies noted that after measuring the productivity of remote workers they observed a steady decrease in employee productivity. Plus more and more employees were experiencing signs of burnout. Turns out it’s not that easy to stay productive while working from home.
Even in software development, a field that traditionally involves some form of remote work, people are experiencing certain problems. Canadian Dalhousie University in their study, “Pandemic programming,” pointed out that a number of developers among the 2,225 of those surveyed were experiencing certain discomfort working from home. Absence of a specialized place dedicated solely for work, constant loss of concentration caused by the presence of one’s loved ones – all these things impact productivity quite negatively.
Rising morbidity directly correlates with decreasing productivity
When people mention remote work, they often forget what caused it – the COVID-19 pandemic. But the situation with coronavirus directly affects everybody; therefore, it impacts the efficiency of employees as well.
Risk of contracting the virus, fear for their loved ones, unstable situation on the labor market – all these elements create unnecessary anxiety, which only adds to the discomforts of loneliness. As a result, people feel distressed, and this feeling reduces their efficiency. This factor needs to be taken into account as well.
It matters whether a person was asked to work remotely or chose it voluntarily
Yet another factor that should be considered when evaluating the productivity of remote employees is whether they chose this work format or were pressured into it. We actually did a relatively small-scale research regarding this very issue. The research focused primarily on the opinions of the employees who prior to the pandemic preferred to work in an office. The poll was based on a telephone survey of our clients, i.e. company/department executives who use employee monitoring softwares.
- 39% of respondents believed that overall productivity has declined since the switch to remote work;
- Another 50% noted that while some employees had lower productivity, others reported the same or even higher productivity;
- Only 11% of respondents were confident that overall nothing has changed or gotten better.
Of course, our sample was quite limited, but even these numbers are quite illustrative. It proves that not all employees maintain their peak productivity after switching to remote work.
So, what can be done about it all?
Well, the only thing left for employers to do is to work systematically toward increasing their employees’ productivity. To accomplish this task, it’s important to use several tools:
- Personalizing your approach. Some people feel great working from home, while others suffer greatly because of it. While some people require supervision, other people simply get annoyed by it. Everything is completely personal, so we recommend that you keep a close eye on productivity metrics for each team and employee with the help of tools that measure remote employees’ productivity. One particular example is Kickidler – the program that makes the whole process very easy;
- Maintaining contact. Feeling lonely and disconnected from the team poses a serious problem that you should help resolve to the best of your ability. Video conferences, calls, online chats – try to make good use of the communication tools you have and remain in contact with your employees;
- Helping organize work conditions. Consider providing remote workers with necessary equipment – for example, work laptops. Try making employees’ schedules more flexible. Ensure that they have access to the resources they require. Ultimately, simply ask your employees what they need and how the company can accommodate them.
Finally, keep in mind that analyzing work time reports in Kickidler time tracking tool helps you spot most problems even before the employees themselves notice them. Are you noticing a decline in productivity? Don’t falter, start looking into the causes of the problem and try to fix it. It truly is the most efficient approach.
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