Covid19 has pushed businesses all over the world to adopt homeworking. However, it was not always set up in the ideal way: from IT tools to management style to how the employee works. Things were implemented in a rush. In this blog series, we will unfold homeworking in all its aspects.
This blog post is part one, we’ll have a look at how/why homeworking is believed to increase employee productivity, the cultural differences, and what it takes to optimize ‘productive’ homeworking. In subsequent blog posts, we’ll cover other angles such as legal frameworks, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), management styles, cost optimizations, etc.
I have been working very regularly from home in the past years. Living a roughly 90-minute drive from the office helped, of course. Homeworking became my new normal a long time ago. That said, it did not include to ‘never’ go into the office and not having any type of face-to-face contact with the team. It also didn’t include having my young kids running around the house while I’m working. I’m assuming the COVID-19 measure are temporary by nature, but also that the current peak in forced homeworking will have consequences in the way we’ll work in the future. In other words, I’m convinced that the adoption of homeworking will grow – so let’s do it right.
Jumping right into the subject. Workers with a flexible workspace policy (home, office, anywhere) are claimed to be more productive when working from home. From personal experience, I agree with the claim: less time in traffic, more focus, a higher threshold for people to interrupt you, etc. We will talk about those drivers for success below. I’m not alone in feeling more productive when regularly working at home: an IWG Survey from March 2019 shows respondents tend to be very positive about the relationship between productivity and a flexible workspace /homeworking. 37% of respondents even claim to be 40% more productive.
% of business people (right scale) reporting the increase in productivity (left scale) believed to be made by a flexible workspace policy
Source: IWG Survey from March 2019
Homeworking: for whom?
Clearly, not every job can be operated from a home office. Where in some countries there are experiments with remote doctor appointments, I can’t see a nurse giving remote instructions on how to draw blood. Bus drivers, construction workers, etc. are not in the possibility to work from home either. It is typically a perk for knowledge workers and people that get most of their work done on a computer. In the US, the World Economic Forum estimates “around a quarter (24%) of workers in ‘management, business and financial’ occupations – such as corporate executives, IT managers, financial analysts, accountants and insurance underwriters – have access to telework. So do 14% of ‘professional and related’ workers, such as lawyers, software designers, scientists and engineers.”
However, “only 7% of civilian workers in the United States, or roughly 9.8 million of the nation’s approximately 140 million civilian workers, have access to a ‘flexible workplace’ benefit, or telework”, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey (NCS) from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As the graphs below show, there are multiple variables that create a platform for flexible and home working: the industry you work in and the role you are in matter. So does the size of the company: larger organizations tend to enable homeworking more broadly. There are cultural differences as well. In the next chapter we will have a look at differences between countries.
Arnaud's tips for homeworking
Most people will agree they are more productive when working at home. That context is very personal. Let me share 10 tips that help me get the most out of my homeworking days:
- Get a shower, get dressed: you’re going to work, it’s just not in an office. You won’t catch me working in my PJs!
- A quiet office: I have the luxury of having 2 offices in my home. One is integrated in the living area which I would use in evenings, when there are no calls, or when nobody is home. The other office is cut off from the world and free of distractions and noise. This is really the default office for me.
- 3 monitors: with 2 external monitors connected to my laptop, I’m “better” equipped at home than in the office.
- Clean desk: I don’t like mess on desk. I’ll clean up at least every couple of days. The only thing you’ll find is a pen or 2, some paper (for scribbles), and a bottle of water.
- Music: I’ve always worked with music on the background. It helps me focus. To that point, in the office, I often have a headset playing music.
- Online meetings with video: Just by the nature of my job, I run tons of online meetings with people all over the world. I appreciate to see the people during a meeting, and, hence I’ll default my “video on”.
- Planning: every week I try to plan ahead and block time in my agenda for focus tasks. These are tasks that will take longer than 30’ and that require to get ‘into the zone’ in order to get things done. Every morning, I review and adjust my agenda. It also helps in setting expectation to others that might depend on my work.
- Instant Messaging, active: as mentioned, I’m used to work on 3 monitors. One of these monitors will by default will have my Slack, WhatsApp and Teams open. I realize this actually should not be a best practice as it creates distraction. That’s probably true. It just helps me not feeling isolated and still be somehow integrated in the team.
- Samsung Watch: sitting still all day isn’t great for health. My watch reminds me to get up and take a walk.
- Plan for a F2F with the team at least once a week: the above are all linked to working at home. But equally important for me is to have actual F2F time planned on a weekly basis.
Different speeds in different countries
If we look at the European Union, there are vast differences between countries in the adoption of homeworking. Data from Eurostat below – as collected by Merchant Savvy – shows the evolution of employees that occasionally work from home over the span of 10 years.
The differences can in part be explained by the unique mix of industries in each country (i.e. countries with more knowledge workers could logically have a higher number of homeworkers compared to countries with more blue-collar workers in manufacturing). This reasoning doesn’t always apply. Sweden, for example, has a relatively large manufacturing industry yet is leading the pack in (occasional) home working.
The availability of telecom and IT infrastructure, culture, leadership style, etc. will all explain the differences per country.
Eurostat: evolution in occasional home working in the EU
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