New research suggests the coronavirus will have a lasting impact on the way we work, with almost half of the workforce expected to work remotely after the virus is contained.
Large swathes of the global workforce are working from home for the first time after social distancing measures forced many businesses to temporarily shut down offices.
And new data from global research and advisory firm Gartner suggests the move could be a permanent one.
A survey of 229 human resources leaders revealed that 41 per cent of “employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time” after the coronavirus – up from 30 per cent before the pandemic.
Gartner said this could lead to a boost in firm-level productivity – albeit with some caveats.
A past survey of more than 5000 workers found remote workers put in more discretionary effort than people who never work remotely – 48 per cent versus 35 per cent – but were likely to switch jobs more often.
It found the percentage of workers who showed high intent to stay with their employer was 13 percentage points higher among employees working in offices than those working remotely.
Gartner’s vice president of research and advisory Aaron McEwan said this was largely because remote workers felt more isolated from their employers.
But he told The New Daily the benefits of remote working outweighed the downsides as workers were typically happier and more productive.
This is mainly because they save lots of time by not commuting and can attack their work with a clear state of mind as soon as they wake up, when their mind is at its sharpest, Mr McEwan said.
“The research shows that, prior to this crisis, there was a subset of remote workers, which happened to be most of them, that were more engaged and more productive,” Mr McEwan said.
“But there was a segment that weren’t. And the core thing that differentiated those groups was the degree of psychological safety or trust that they were operating in.”
In other words: Remote workers were more productive than office workers when their managers refrained from micro-managing and – aside from setting reasonable deadlines – allowed workers to determine their own schedules and way of working.
Fewer distractions a big plus
This was the experience of Detmold Group when a large chunk of its workforce in Australia and New Zealand (roughly 140 employees) started working from home three weeks ago.
Detmold’s group general manager of marketing and innovation Tom Lunn told The New Daily productivity had increased since the move, as people had fewer distractions outside the office.
He noted, however, that major difficulties lie in scheduling times for group calls; making sure employees did not feel too isolated; working through disagreements; and negotiating difficult conversations without face-to-face contact.
But “we definitely think that working from home – working remotely – will be more common in our business [after the coronavirus],” Mr Lunn said.
“I don’t think we’ll ever travel as much as we used to,” he added, referring mainly to the company’s team of engineers.
“I think we’ll replace some of that travel with heavier use of technology – using video, using live cams, and showing people video of what’s going on in factories, rather than travelling everywhere.”
The global Gartner survey comes just days after the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work released a briefing paper suggesting roughly 30 per cent of Australian jobs could conceivably be done from home.
The paper found occupations that allow remote working typically pay 25 per cent more than those which don’t – “reinforcing the need for comprehensive income protections for those who cannot work from home” during the pandemic.
It also flagged the importance of ensuring:
- “Fair compensation for extra expenses associated with home work
- “Applying normal rules regarding working hours and pay
- “Ensuring a safe home work environment (including its social and familial context, with challenges like domestic violence), and
- “Protecting the privacy of home workers from undue monitoring and surveillance by employers”.
“Much of the increase in home work will likely become permanent, even after the immediate health emergency passes,” wrote Centre for Future Work director Jim Stanford.
“That makes it crucial to ‘get home work right’: Providing home workers with appropriate support and protections, and preventing abuse and exploitation as home work becomes more common.”