Productivity while working from home


Zoom. Microsoft Teams. Google Hangouts. Skype. WhatsApp. Video conferencing applications have become ubiquitous integral components of professional lives across many industries ever since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Not all employees can work from home. Current technology does not enable every type of worker in every sector to work remotely and video conference in and provide virtual deliverables.

But those fortunate enough to benefit from work-from-home arrangements often enjoy remote working more than going into the office, so they argue to their employers that they get more done while at home.

But in reality, most workers enjoy forgoing the hassle of commuting to and from work the most and do not notice the actual declines in work conditions by labouring at home. Many staff do not realise that their productivity from working at home drops considerably while their time spent working on their job tasks actually shoots up through the roof.

Just released research out of the famed University of Chicago by Michael Gibbs, Friederike Mengel, and Christoph Siemroth applied statistical rigour to uncover the nuances of working from home on effectiveness.

They compared pre-coronavirus office working hours and productivity to during coronavirus remote working. Worker productivity declined by 20 per cent when organisations switched employees to home working settings because output remained the same but they had to work 30 percent longer hours just to get the same amount of tasks done.

Why the productivity decline? First, managers implemented more group meetings when their employees work from home. Bosses rationalised that since workers are participating through video conferencing and are not stuck in the office, then therefore longer meetings are acceptable. Further, lots of time gets wasted by subpar meeting hosts who constantly repeat “can you hear me?” or fail to mute everyone’s microphones or manage attendees properly.

Second, increased meeting length and frequency means employees have markedly less time to focus on uninterrupted tasks and therefore reducing their concentration and creativity. Third, working from home led to workers networking less and receiving less supportive coaching from their supervisors thus hurting their career growth and trajectory.

Fourth, the extra added working time takes place mostly after normal work hours. So, employees are adding those extra hours after they are already exhausted. Inasmuch, their productivity levels fall so low during that period that they drag down overall productivity while reducing time for the rest and relaxation necessary for recuperation for the next day’s work.

Unsurprisingly, employees with children living at home had to increase their working hours the most because of significant declines in their productivity. Meanwhile, women suffer the most from working from home.

Many commentators may jump to the assumption that female workers are the most negatively impacted by working from home because of childcare responsibilities.

However, the research study provided statistical evidence that childcare duties do not cause the adverse effects ,but rather it seems that parents, mothers-in-law, and fathers-in-law placing higher expectations on their daughters and daughters-in-law working from home that cause the increased work hours and lower productivity.

How can employers avoid the work from home productivity declines? Stop the incessant desire to gather everyone on video conferencing lines for constant meetings.

Human resources departments must hold managers to greater account for work-life balance of their staff during remote working scenarios. Then, supervisors must be sure to intentionally schedule one-on-one calls to their workers to offer the normal support and encouragement that would take place in an office setting.

Since bosses do not organically see employees while walking down hallways or eating in cafeterias or lunch rooms when the workers labour from home, then they must take the extra step to actually plan and schedule time for coaching their staff.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor