Remember lockdown? With just 2 days to prepare, many of us were suddenly working from home. New words entered our vocabulary like ‘Blursday’ because we had no idea what day it was and ‘quaranteams’ for online teams created during lockdown. We quickly learnt new skills. Like remembering to tick ‘un-mute’ before speaking in online meetings, or turning the camera off when still in pj’s. Some of us took longer to learn than others!
As the alert levels lifted and we’ve returned to the workplace, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on ‘what did we learn from that time’, and ‘are there things that we would like to take from that experience and implement in future?’
Team Trust, Motivation and Productivity
The key question for teams and leaders within organisations going into lockdown was ‘can I trust my team and/or co-workers to work as productively at home as they would at work?’ It forced us to confront the issue of team trust and what motivates people to work. Do we need to sit at a desk 8 hours per day for it to be considered as work? Do we need a manager looking over our shoulder in order for us to keep working?
It turns out that for the most part, the answer is ‘yes, we can be as productive’. In an Otago University study of 2595 people, 70% of people who worked from home during lockdown believed they either worked at normal capacity or exceeded it. Similarly, an Australian study found that 74% of respondents felt they were as productive working remotely as they did in the office.
However, there are some factors which influence our ability to be as productive at home as we are at work. Our environment and personal circumstances, the type of work we do and having a choice all have an impact.
1. Environment and Personal Circumstances
Not surprisingly, our home office set-up is a key factor in our ability to be productive. For young people sharing a house, being confined to a desk in your bedroom meant there was no getting away from work during lockdown. Equally, parents of young children found the juggle and constant pull of where to spend their time while full time parenting and working from home to be very challenging. Having a dedicated work space where you can focus and then close the door at the end of the day is key to being able to switch off. The ideal elements for the home office were found to be:
- natural light
- technology set-up e.g. large and multiple screens
- a dedicated space
- good ergonomics
- environmental conditions e.g. ventilation, air flow and temperature
- view to nature
- acoustic privacy.
Psychosocial factors also play an important role in people’s ability to concentrate on work during a stressful time. Emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia for work e.g. is there a point in even trying?; were found to be negative motivators that lead to reduced work performance. While having fun and problem-solving with colleagues, having a purpose and access to colleagues and mentors to help with learning were all seen to be motivating factors.
2. Matching the Work and the Environment
In the Australian study of 1000 respondents, 57% said their ability to focus, think and do deep work is greater when working remotely compared to being in the office.
Having quiet, undisturbed time to concentrate and not be interrupted was seen as a significant benefit of working from home. People also valued being able to work at their most productive time without being constrained to 9-5, while also not having to deal with the office commute. In addition, roles that previously had been thought of as office-bound were proved possible from anywhere, and with no negative impact on performance.
On the other side of the coin, people reported that social interaction and collaboration is better when working in the office. Just 48% feel they can effectively share ideas and think creatively and/or strategically while working remotely. Social connection, or being together physically, brings energy and a level of connection that digital tools just can’t replicate. Collaborating in person offers the ability to access diversity of thought, energy and generation of ideas that you can’t access online, while stuck on mute.
3. Should we WFH, WFA or WFO?
What do we want? Work from home (WFH), work from anywhere (WFA) or work from the office (WFO)? It turns out that choice is the most important factor. In one poll of 1002 people, 59% said that wanted a mix of both home and office, and 37% want to be working from home full time. In the Otago University study 89% said they wanted to continue working from home in some capacity and only 12.3% of employees want to work from the office full time in the future.
Before lockdown, studies of remote workers found that employees who worked remotely were less motivated (35%) than when working in the office (40.5%), however when people had no choice on where they worked, motivation dropped 17 points (18% WFH and 23.5% WFO). Having choice and some autonomy over the place of work clearly has an impact on our levels of engagement and motivation for work.
What does work look like in future?
When I think back on my own experience of lockdown, I remember it as a time when life became simpler; a time for creativity, a sense of being in this together and more connected to my local community. I wasn’t alone. Many others enjoyed the benefits of working from home.
Our challenge is to take what we’ve learnt during that time and apply it for the long-term.
Flexibility, choice and autonomy were key in keeping people productive and motivated. The ability to be empowered to have a choice between days in the office and days at home is a logical way forward. Having team days where everyone is working from the office gives teams the opportunity to connect and collaborate, while offering flexibility to work from home on other days.
Given that tactical, focused work and deep concentration is more suited to the home environment, having dedicated office spaces at home that are well set-up and promote productivity are important. Employees can select the type of work more suited to home and save those tasks or projects for working from home days.
Equally given that social interaction and collaboration are more suited to the office environment, break-out rooms, casual and formal meeting rooms, co-working spaces to suit more agile working practices are a way to meet these needs.
My question for you is what did you learn from lockdown and what do you want to take forward into the way you work in future?