Is Work-From-Home Increasing or Decreasing Employee Productivity?

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Priyanka Prashob
Priyanka Prashob is an organizational psychologist with 6+ years of experience in the field of Content and Psychology. She is a passionate writer and has authored 2 books. She has designed content for corporate training programs, worked on organizational behavior reports and numerous individual personality assessment reports. Several research articles written by her are published on platforms like Academia and Research Gate. The articles have gained recognition and appreciation from universities, academicians, and researchers across the world.

Today, one thing that’s common in all our lives apart from the pandemic is ‘work-from-home’. Pandemic has forced organizations to implement work-from-home full-time – which once was considered a privilege for employees. For some people especially working mothers or those who have elders to take care of, work-from-home has been a blessing in disguise! But let’s come to the question of the hour – ‘Is work-from-home increasing or declining employee productivity?’

Well, though this a subjective concept, there are some interesting studies we can draw some insights from. While we draw insights from the studies, let’s also look at the perks and cons of working from home.

What are the perks of work-from-home?

Although there have been digital nomads working remotely for years, traditional roles were shackled to the office. But this changed with the increasing work-from-home trends. People and organizations had to adapt to this new normal and make it work. Employee productivity-wise, fortunately, organizations have seen a lot of positive outcomes in terms of productivity while working remotely.  As per the 2019 Airtasker survey, work-from-home increased employee productivity. In this study, researchers asked 1,004 full-time employees throughout the U.S. a few questions about their productivity, their commutes, and other facets of their lives. Among them, 505 people worked remotely. The study found that working from home not only benefited employees by eliminating their daily commutes but also increased productivity – leading to healthier lifestyles. Thus, creating a win-win situation especially in terms of flexibility the work-from-home offers, however, at the cost of work-life balance.  

Some people also felt they could plan their day in advance. Since they are at home, they felt at ease to finish the assigned deliverables as the distraction were less at home when compared to the office. Of course, the scenario is entirely different if you have a toddler at home and no help available (wink, wink). Some even felt they were able to get more work done in less time when compared to the office since they have the freedom to work at their pace and timings! Flexibility is indeed a boon!

What are the perks?

1. Saving the commute time

According to one study, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. The average American’s commute is now nearly 30 minutes. That much time on the road means workers are spending more money on fuel, not to mention vehicle maintenance and repair costs. But with work-from-home, the remote worker on average saved more than $4,500 on yearly fuel costs as per the study. Not just that the lack of a daily commute also led to a slight decrease in maintenance costs, with remote workers spending $55 per month versus the $59 per month office workers spent. And less travel, means fewer people taking out their vehicles. This means less pollution and a healthy environment!  

2. More time for family and self-development oriented tasks

Along with the cost savings, respondents said they noticed that they had more free time once their commutes were eliminated. On average, employees said they had an extra 17 days’ worth of free time as a result. On a positive note, some in fact invested in building healthier exercise habits. As per researchers, remote employees spent 2 hours and 44 minutes on physical exercise each week, marking a 25-minute increase over office workers. As a bonus, employees working from home also reported that they were able to spend more time with their family when compared to working at the office. 

3. Containing the virus spread

Additionally, sickness spreads quickly among co-workers sharing the same office space. No matter how many precautionary measures we take and the safety protocols we follow – there is always a chance of getting infected. And you cannot exclude this factor! In this regard, allowing your people to work from home helps stop the spread of COVID-19. Thereby, safeguarding your people and their families. 

The cons of working from home

All said and done, flexibility though is a boon – sometimes can be the exact opposite! Because some people may lose track of time and fail to differentiate between personal and work time. Thereby, disrupting their work-life, personal and emotional balance. And this is a serious thing, which if not taken care of can negatively impact one’s physical and mental health, and his/her personal and professional life.

In this regard, researchers found that working from home can be more stressful than working at the office. Nearly 29% of telecommuting respondents and 23% of office workers said they had a hard time maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working-from-home.

In addition, 54% of remote workers and 49% of office workers said they felt “overly stressed during the workday.” And 45% of remote workers and 42% of office workers reported having “experienced high levels of anxiety during the workday,”. In addition, 29% of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31% said they felt a strong need to take a day off for their mental health.

What are the major cons?

1.No proper work timings

In 2019, nearly 87% of full-time U.S. employees averaged eight-and-a-half hours per workday, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, by last June and July, approximately 2,025 full-time workers who worked remotely and non remotely told Global Workplace Analytics and Owl Labs that they were working more during the pandemic. By how much, you ask? Nearly an average of 26 extra hours a month, as per a survey. 

On a negative note, this workweek expansion could erode work-life boundaries and contribute to employee burnout.

2. Managing work relationships

One more downside to working from home is not being able to connect with your teammates and maintain a steady relationship with them. According to the study, 70% of respondents said maintaining relationships with their co-workers was just as important as their jobs. Only 19% said they prioritized work over relationships, while the remaining 11% said co-worker relationships came first to them. No doubt, leaders are trying hard to fill this gap with video calls – giving an opportunity for team members to interact with each other. However, zoom fatigue is a real thing! In fact, too many video calls too can hinder performance and productivity.

3. No proper office set-up

Is Work-From-Home Increasing or Decreasing Employee Productivity
An employee sitting on the couch and working.

While some employees are fortunate to have received office infrastructure and other benefits from their organizations – not all of them have received this benefit. Some are still working with the limited resources available to them at their homes – converting their couch, bed, dining table, etc. as their workspace. This in fact has a direct impact on their productivity and performance. And not to mention – health-related complaints!

4. Broken work-life balance

The major issue with work-from-home is a poor work-life balance if not managed properly. Household chores, taking care of your family’s needs, piling work, work pressure, pandemic stress – all this can take a toll on employees’ minds. With so much happening, it’s only natural for employees to lose their work-life balance and experience burnout!

How to deal with the cons?

Firstly, nobody was prepared for the pandemic nor the shift to remote work. It’s a matter of survival! And everybody is bound to face changes, tensions and stress. And that’s absolutely normal! But what’s not acceptable is not adapting to this change even after knowing what challenges we are facing! Now that we know the cons, it’s easier to counter-attack them with effective action steps that are directed towards improving your employee productivity and well-being! 

Here are few tips to spike your employee productivity, and help them stay focused and efficient during this work-from-home phase:

  1. Encourage your employees to take short breaks in between work
  2. Motivate them to inculcate healthy habits. Be they exercise, eating healthy, etc. To do so, you may even start a health club and organize interesting activities once in a while to keep them engaged with the aim of getting them to build healthy habits
  3. Talk to your employees and see if they need any kind of assistance in terms of work or otherwise. This may be in terms of providing office infrastructure. Or providing them professional counseling services from an expert if they are dealing with anxiety.  
  4. Invest in your employees’ learning and development. See if they need any help in upgrading their skills so that they can give their best shot at work
  5. Encourage them to utilize their leaves. So, that when they return to work – they will be pumped and rejuvenated to start fresh!
  6. Provide them with remote work tools that will help them communicate and collaborate with their remote team members. Select the tools that will aid them to get work done faster and better!
  7. Motivate them to stick to the working hours be it 8 or 9 hours. They can work at their convenience but encourage them to stick to the working hours. This will improve their work-life balance and send them a message that you are genuinely interested in their well-being.

To sum it up

Though work from home does come with some cons – they are nothing that can’t be taken care of if timely measures are effectively planned and executed. In fact, if done rightly, they can spike your employee productivity and performance which ultimately improves your organization’s bottom line.  

Also Read: 6 Ways to Improve Your Employee Experience Digitally

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