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Will Employers Ever Feel Comfortable With Working From Home Productivity?

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From cars and coffee shops to coworking spaces, remote work has had an interesting history. One persistent topic for employers focuses on employees in a specific location – working from home productivity.

Some employers struggle to feel comfortable with a workforce that includes remote workers and employees who split time between the office and a remote location, including home. Many employers who expected to have remote workers temporarily are finding that working from home is here to stay. 

An Upwork study conducted during the first year of the pandemic estimated that more than 22% of the US workforce will be working remotely by 2025. It also found that as a result of their experiences during COVID-19, more than 60% of hiring managers say their workforce will be more remote going forward. 

Workers are placing higher value on flexible work environments and arrangements when selecting employment opportunities. A 2021 survey by Owl Labs reported that 71% of its survey respondents want a hybrid or remote working environment, even after the pandemic is over. And 48% of survey respondents would start looking for a different job that offered more flexibility if they were not permitted to work remotely. 

Workers are placing higher value on flexible work environments and arrangements when selecting employment opportunities.

Top Misconceptions About Working from Home

Even though working from home and remote work isn’t new, it can be hard for some employers and managers to break free of misconceptions about remote work. Here are three big ones. 

Employees are shirking from home, not working from home

For some, the perception is that if someone’s working from home, they might not be working at all. However, in reality  work from home productivity statistics indicate that it's actually the opposite that occurs. A 2015 Stanford study of 16,000 call center workers showed more than a 20% increase in performance when working from home. According to the Owl Labs survey, 24% said their productivity is the same working from home as it was at the office – but 67% reported they are even more productive while working at home.

Studies have shown that people are generally happier when working from home. They tend to have a better work life balance, because they can use that lunch hour to go do something and not have to travel from the office to go pick up little Susie, to go to the doctor's office, to take her back home. 

Many employees have also indicated that they tend to work more from home than from the office - some as much as two hours per day. While that may sound good, it can lead to burnout, which should be of concern to managers.  

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Employees working from home aren’t as communicative, connected, or collaborative as in-office employees

Communication is often cited as the largest issue faced by both employees and employers, and this is especially when it comes to working remotely. Scheduling regular meetings with teams and individuals helps to build and strengthen relationships. While the ubiquitous video happy hour has its place, providing intentional, thoughtful  – and synchronous – live, virtual events help groups connect in more meaningful ways. 

Connection and collaboration are very accessible with the right digital tools. It’s also important to set and share expectations around communication that creates a healthy relationship between employees, co-workers, and their managers.

Because there are so many different communication channels, it's recommended that you provide norms and expectations about how employees will collaborate and what tools they’ll use. For example, to define how quickly an employee might be expected to respond to a co-worker and clarify what kinds of applications are used as “official channels.” 

As for collaboration, well, that’s something that requires action, whether around a table in person or through live video calls among a distributed workforce. When a company believes collaboration to be a core competency or value, and puts action and intention behind it, teams will collaborate. 

Home has more interruptions and distractions than the office does

Most people find that, in general, they can focus longer when they’re working from home than when in the office.

Office distractions have been a big part of daily life for most employees. A pre-pandemic study by Udemy revealed that 80% surveyed said that chatty co-workers were a distraction, followed by office noise. Older workers cited trying to keep up with tech changes in the workplace while younger workers, unsurprisingly, said mobile phones (especially checking social media), distracted them from work. 

In a remote work environment, you don't get co-workers dropping by with an interruption that pulls focus from the task at hand. Parents face 10% more distractions at home than the office counterparts do. However, as those working from home have transitioned from kitchen tables to dedicated home-office spaces, household interruptions have reduced somewhat. 

However, a survey by Joblist indicated that more than 50% of respondents felt it was more difficult to separate work and nonwork life. And with that, many new distractions –from laundry to cooking to video games– interrupted the workday for a small percentage of workers. 

No matter where their desks reside, all employees are prone to distraction sometimes, and it’s beneficial to help reduce those distractions. Empowering employees to block “focus time” on their calendars to work on specific tasks, bulk their email and call times, turn off notifications, utilize time management training and tools, take time away from their screens, and establish healthy work-life boundaries can provide solid gains for everyone! 

Even though working from home isn't new, it can be hard for some employers and managers to break free of misconceptions about remote work.

So, will employers ever feel comfortable with working from home productivity? 

Yes and no.

Ultimately, it comes down to trusting employees to do the jobs that an employer has hired them to do. If, even after trying, an employer isn’t able to extend that trust it’s probably a sign that an in-office workforce is the best option for their business. So no, some employers may never feel fully comfortable with a remote workforce, whether they’re at home or somewhere else.

Yet, as they become more familiar with remote workforce management, other employers who may have been initially wary of working from home, will discover the promise and potential that embracing remote work has for their business. With the right tools in place for collaboration, and clear expectations set in a remote work policy helping employers feel more at ease, confident, and ready for what the future workforce will bring. And they’ll answer with a big yes.

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