How Covid-19 contributes to a long-term boost in remote working
The number of people working from home in Switzerland has doubled during the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic is likely to cause a permanent increase in remote working even after the crisis. An overwhelming majority of people currently working from home believe that doing so does not harm their productivity. However, many challenges remain, and businesses need to take action to make sure they can support their employees adequately.
Because of the coronavirus crisis and the social distancing measures introduced by the Swiss government in March 2020, thousands of Swiss employees are currently working from home. In a representative survey, Deloitte Switzerland asked 1,500 people all over the country how this sudden change in circumstances has affected them.
Moving towards more remote working after Covid-19
Even before the coronavirus crisis, there was a steady increase in people choosing to work remotely, and many companies have moved to more flexible workplace models. Data from the Federal Statistical Office show that between 2013 and 2018 before the crisis struck, there was an increase from 18% to 24% in workers working from home for at least half a day per week. The current crisis around Covid-19 may change this drastically. Our survey shows that during the crisis, around 50% of people who are employed or self-employed are working from home. Even though the majority of these people will return to the office once normality has returned, the number of people working remotely is unlikely to go back to pre-Covid-19 levels. Our survey shows that before the crisis, around 25% of respondents were working from home at least once a week. After the crisis, however, 34% believe that they will be working from home at least once a week.
Share of Swiss workers working from home (at least half a day per week)
This increase will have a significant impact on businesses, and we will probably see many moving to more flexible workplace models. The current crisis is serving as a large-scale remote working experiment, demonstrating what works and what does not. The trend towards more flexible workplace models, accelerated by the coronavirus crisis, has a positive effect on society as a whole, giving people more flexibility in terms of location and time management, while also lowering the burden on road and rail infrastructure.
Remote working does not harm productivity for most
It would seem probable that for some people working from home can be more productive than working in an office. Depending on the task, we can get things done more efficiently when we do not find ourselves in a noisy office. Our survey clearly underscores this: over 70 per cent of respondents replied that they are more or just as efficient when working from home. Only 1 in 4 think that their productivity might suffer when working outside the office. These findings show that most employees value flexible workplace models, seeing it as enhancing their productivity, which in turn could also increase employee satisfaction.
Remote working and productivity
Remote working does have its challenges
We also asked people about the challenges they are currently facing working from home. Unsurprisingly, almost half of all respondents see a lack of personal interactions with colleagues and clients as one of their biggest challenges – about 20% even worry about their mental well-being as they often feel isolated when working from home. When it comes to distractions, about a third see being distracted by their kids or family as one of the biggest challenges. About 16% do not have a designated workspace at home, which exacerbates the disturbance and distraction from their family members.
These results must be interpreted within the context of the current pandemic. Many people are faced with an extreme situation in which they have to improvise workspace and take care of their children at the same time. Our data shows that those who are distracted by their children are much more likely to report that they are less productive at home. Therefore we might see an increase in the perceived productivity of employees once children can go back to school. A situation like the current one is unlikely to become the norm for people choosing to work remotely. However, some of today’s challenges can serve as practical lessons when it comes to implementing flexible workspace models in the future.
Businesses need to take action
To make sure businesses can successfully enable their employees to be more productive when working remotely post Covid-19, they need to consider a few critical points.
Companies that have previously embraced future of work practices, with virtual resources and technology support for remote workplaces, are probably well positioned to sustain their operations and respond quickly to the demands of navigating the current crisis. It is therefore vital for companies to take action and tackle a lack of appropriate technology, such as digital devices, virtual collaboration tools and platforms that will support dynamic work locations.
Technology, however, is not the only important aspect when it comes to working remotely. Companies and their employees need to find ways of organising themselves and reimagine how best to conduct productive team meetings and guarantee efficient teamwork.
When working remotely, managers and leaders must ensure that their teams understand their purpose, both on an individual and overall team level. Especially in disruptive times, managers need to communicate regularly with their teams and make sure they establish a new rhythm to achieve the best possible performance. They need to recognise that each team member is different, listen to their needs and understand that performance might vary depending on how individuals adapt to the new situation. To make sure team spirit stays high even in a virtual environment, managers should find appropriate ways to reward and recognise teams for their good work. And finally, managers must lead by example. Regular check-ins with each team member are vital to ensure their well-being and that of the team. Leaders should act as a role model and pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable work environment when working remotely. Only then can we fully reap the benefits of working remotely.