Posted: 24 Jun. 2020 5 min. read

Adapting to a new ‘normal’

The long-term impacts of working from home in the workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations into the world’s largest working from home (WFH) experiment. This rapid transition provides employers and employees with a unique opportunity to investigate the collective response of the workforce to a shared experience. If employees have changed their work habits, organisations will need to be aware of the long-term impacts this may have on the workplace. 

A workforce analytics organisation, Worklytics, anonymously analysed data from common productivity tools including: G Suite, Office 365 and Slack, to assess the impact of the significant increase in WFH. They examined more than 100 metrics from before and after the shift to WFH to understand how work patterns in these tools have changed. Their research found that since WFH employees tend to work longer days, have difficulty focusing from increased interruptions and show changed patterns with relation to collaboration. The findings suggest that organisations need to reconsider and perhaps reconfigure workplace practices to ensure employees feel supported and connected. Moreover, the increase in remote working will require leaders to shift their mindsets and behaviours to enable cross-team collaboration and thus diversity of thought.

Aim

Worklytics aimed to help organisations measure and adapt to the new ways of working, leveraging data from productivity tools to provide insights into changing work patterns since the move to WFH.

Findings

This research found three key trends relating to the change in work patterns since transitioning to WFH.

Longer Working Days: The working day has increased by 15%, with employees on average beginning 45 minutes earlier and ending around 40 minutes later than usual. This is largely attributed to the removal of the daily commute to and from the workplace, with the indication that time spent commuting has transferred to more working hours. 

Difficulty Focusing from Increased Interruptions: The removal of face-to-face conversations has resulted in a 25% increase in recurring meetings, an influx of emails and the increased use of chat tools. Employees are finding it harder to have uninterrupted time for individual focused work, reporting an 8% decrease in focus time.

Changed Patterns of Collaboration:  Overall, there is a 15% increase in collaboration with plenty of interaction between direct team members, however inter-team collaboration has decreased by 15%. Likewise, employees’ internal networks initially increased in size but have since decreased to similar or smaller sizes than before the transition. The initial spike can be accounted for a desire for social connection, followed by an “out of mind, out of sight” mindset.

Implications

There are several implications for the workplace, if the change in working patterns is sustained. These are:

Higher Risk of Burn-out: A challenge of remote working is that it is easier to blur the lines between work and personal life. Longer working hours and the mix of duties at the same time can increase stress levels, leading to the risk of burn-out.  This builds on an existing trend such that in 2019 the World Health Organisation had already added Burn-out to the International Classification of Diseases. Furthermore, a United Nations report of 10 EU Member States found that 41% of remote workers reported higher levels of stress, compared to 25% of office workers, however occasional remote workers did not differ significantly from office workers (Eurofound, 2017). When the mandated period of COVID-19 related remote working is removed around the globe, it would be prudent for organisations to actively consider moderating the frequency of WFH to mitigate risks of burn-out. Implementing partial WFH practices can accommodate for the needs of a diverse workforce whilst maintaining employee well-being.

Decrease in Productivity: Forced context-switching throughout the day can lead to a decrease in productivity for employees who benefit from longer periods of uninterrupted time to focus on their work. Contrary to this, numerous studies have found that WFH can lead to an increase in productivity, attributed largely to longer working hours and decreased interruptions (André, 2013; Beauregard et al, 2013; Lasfargue and Fauconnier, 2015a). This research suggests that decreased productivity could be unique to a subset of employees. To maximise productivity of all employees, it would be wise for leaders to foster an environment where employees feel empowered to manage their day. Training and awareness initiatives would assist to help employees and managers on how to effectively work remotely.

Siloed Organisations: If the decrease in employee’s networks is sustained, previously organic conversations may diminish, completely resulting in smaller internal networks. Siloed organisations face challenges of reduced collaboration and a loss of diversity of thought. Furthermore, the lack of social interaction can pose a threat to employee well-being, leading to feelings of detachment and disconnection. Many organisations already view their teams as interdependent, providing cross-team collaboration is now particularly critical to mitigate the risks of disengagement and of course, to develop more effective solutions.

If the observed increase in remote working becomes the full-time or dominant norm, organisations will need to consider how to facilitate inclusion to mitigate risks of burn-out, siloes, and disconnection within their workforce. The answer may lie in reconfiguring organisational structures and implementing partial WFH practices, noting that these will help to facilitate a more inclusive environment and improve employees’ overall well-being. 

To read the full article see:

Update: The Impact of COVID-19/WFH on Work Habits, Worklytics. (2020). Retrieved 14 June 2020, from https://www.worklytics.co/update-the-impact-of-covid-19-wfh-on-work-habits/

Supporting references:

  • Eurofound and the International Labour Office (2017), Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, and the International Labour Office, Geneva.
  • André, M. (2013), Svenska chefer gillar distansarbete [Swedish managers like telework], NYA Chef, 29 November, available at http://chef.se/svenska-chefer-gillar-distansarbete/.
  • Beauregard, A., Basile, K. and Canonico, E. (2013), Home is where the work is: A new study of homeworking in Acas – and beyond, Acas, London.
  • Lasfargue, Y. and Fauconnier, S. (2015a), Enquête 2015 sur les impacts du télétravail [2015 Survey on the impacts of telework], OBERGO, Paris.

More about the author

Grace Steedman

Grace Steedman

Analyst, Human Capital, Consulting

Grace is an Analyst in our Human Capital Consulting division in Perth. She is passionate about promoting Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace, advocating the value of inclusive leadership in fostering collaboration and enhancing productivity.