In July 2020, I was invited by Mike O’Neill of Bench Builders, a workforce consulting firm, to speak on a webinar about working from home (WFH).
It seemed like everybody and their brother was writing articles providing WFH tips to people and businesses who had been suddenly thrust into the practice due to the novel coronavirus. I wrote one, too.
For this webinar, I took a different approach and delved into some academic research.
Working from home is not a new practice, and researchers have been studying the effects of WFH on productivity, engagement, and profitability for years.
What has changed significantly since this early research was published is the prevalence of working from home.
These are world-changing numbers. When herd immunity is (finally, please, please) attained, we will not be going back to baseline.
Pre-COVID Concerns about Working from Home
Before COVID-19, some employers had been reluctant to embrace working from home.
Employers had concerns such as the following:
- Employees wasting time
- Lower engagement
- Lower productivity
- Fewer coaching/development opportunities
- Expense of setting up home offices
- Importance of “face time”
- Importance of in-person monitoring for performance management
Some of these concerns are valid. Others are indicative of problems that will likely exist whether someone is working in-office or at home.
In the early stages of the pandemic, one of my clients, who works at a company that had not embraced WFH, emailed me the following statement:
What was once “impossible” is now “mandatory.”
For some time, this client had been asking his employer to allow him to work from home a couple of days per week. The employer had deemed the practice untenable. As he wrote his email, he was working from home full time – on a mandatory basis.
Even the reluctant employers must embrace WFH now. COVID-19 has transformed the nature of work worldwide. Employer attitudes toward WFH that may have taken a generation to change have been flipped in a matter of weeks.
Is working from home good for employers?
Short answer…yes. Pre-COVID workplace research shows the following:
Working from home is a desirable employee benefit.
80% of workers want to work from home (State of Remote Work 2020, Owl Labs)
Working from home improves engagement.
Flexibility is one of the highest ranked benefits by Millennials (State of the American Workforce, Gallup, 2017)
Working from home saves money.
$1,900 per call center employee in 9 months on furniture and space (Bloom, N., Liang, J., 2014, HBR)
Working from home improves productivity.
Call center employees completed 13% more calls (Bloom, N., Liang, J., 2014, HBR)
All these indicators are a good thing, because we are not going back to pre-COVID rates of WFH. Companies have already invested in WFH equipment, workers are used to the practice, and even five-year-old children know what Zoom is now.
What lessons should we learn from the WFH research?
Lesson 1: Working from home is a cost saving practice
Desks are vacant 50% – 60% of the time. Working from home can result in $45k – $90k per year per 100 people in space savings (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Workers are willing to give up their assigned office spaces to be able to work from home.
Lesson 2: Working from home productivity levels are good
In America, 85% of workers are “fully productive” working from home (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Lesson 3: Working from home has fewer time wasters
External interruptions (e.g., coworkers, phone calls) eat up 78 minutes per day for people who are working in the office. When working from home, this drops to 43 minutes per day (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Lesson 4: Working from home allows more work hours
Not only do workers save an average of 54 minutes per day commuting (RescueTime, 2020), but 47% of this commute savings is used for additional work (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Additionally, WFH results in fewer and shorter meetings. This saves one to five hours per day on average (RescueTime, 2020).
Yes, working from home blurs the lines between work and home. And, one would think that WFH should adversely affect work/life balance. However, research shows that WFH results in greater perceptions of balance and well-being (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Lesson 5: Working from home is not for everybody
A significant predictor of WFH success is self-discipline (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020). This can be measured with personality tests. I recommend a using a test based on The Big 5 model of personality, specifically the conscientiousness scale.
Additionally, having a dedicated home office is important to success in working from home (Bloom, N., Liang, J., 2014, HBR).
The future of working from home
Post-COVID, 76% of workers will want to work from home at least one day per week. Pre-COVID, this was 31%. Most people are going to want to work from home between two and three days per week (Kamouri A., and Lister, K., 2020).
Ideally, organizations will allow people to self-select to WFH. Workers are more effective when WFH is their choice (Bloom, N., Liang, J., 2014, HBR).
Thanks to Mike O’Neill and Rhonda Beard for the opportunity to speak about this topic. If you would like to watch the one-hour webinar, click here.
For a useful round-up of articles containing work-from-home tips, click here.
I have coached people who work from home for years. The lack of immediate access to coworkers requires productivity systems and self-discipline that are different than when working in the office. Contact me today to schedule a no-cost-to-you assessment of your productivity-improvement needs.
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.