WFH is hurting productivity. The steering wheel desk has got to go!

The benefits of working from home are undeniable. The flexibility is hard to beat, but there is growing evidence that it might not be the productivity panacea we first thought. Some argue that saving time by not having to commute and working away from the distractions of the office makes them more efficient – but are they really more productive or are they simply working longer hours?

A Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers in 31 countries found both to be true. Workers generally believed that their productivity levels were higher at home. However, there appears to be a human cost to this, with more than half (54%) of employees saying they felt overworked and four in 10 (thirty-nine percent) saying they felt exhausted.

Love it or hate it, working from home is likely to continue in some shape or form. So, how can businesses address the productivity pitfalls and ensure that their remote teams are as effective as possible?

 

The right mindset

Wellbeing and productivity go hand in hand. If your employees are physically and mentally fit, they’re less at risk of burnout, less inclined to take time off – although that’s not necessarily a good thing! – and more likely to be effective at work. The pandemic, however, has taken its toll on people’s mental health, with costly repercussions for business.

Research from Westfield Health found that absences due to mental health increased by 10% during 2020 and cost UK businesses £14bn last year. The same research also revealed that presenteeism (the problem of employees being on the job but not fully functioning because of health reasons) is on the rise, with one in three workers saying that mental health issues have negatively impacted their productivity every week.

Employers that ignore the issue of mental health do so at their peril. Some companies are already stepping up and adapting their in-office perks to provide benefits that support people working from home. Free breakfasts and gym membership are being replaced with Employee Assistance Programmes and access to mental health and meditation apps. Managers too are playing a critical role in supporting their teams and encouraging healthy behaviour – and that needs to continue. Ultimately, organisations that prioritise workplace wellbeing will be able to attract and retain the happiest, most engaged and most productive staff.

 

The right tools

However, even the most engaged employees will struggle to be productive if they don’t have the right tools.

You would think that after more than a year of remote working, people would be properly equipped, but almost half (46%) of employees surveyed by Cisco say they still don’t have the full technology set-up to work from home. Many are still reliant on the makeshift arrangements they made at the start of the pandemic. Some people are working from their bedroom floor, balancing their laptop on the bed. Others have turned their garden shed into their new HQ or are even making calls or planning their day from their mobile office – i.e., car (while it’s stationary, might I add!).

The bottom-line is that if people don’t have the appropriate tools to do their job remotely, they won’t be effective. As working from home becomes a permanent fixture, businesses should consider offering remote work allowances, as US tech companies Twitter, Shopify and Salesforce have done, or carrying out assessments to find out what people need for productive working.

 

The right infrastructure

Giving employees the right equipment is only part of the equation. Companies also need to put the right infrastructure in place to deliver a high-performance experience for employees and customers, wherever they are.

Currently, many of the challenges are around providing secure remote access to information and services, with common employee complaints including slow connection speeds and authentication and log-in issues.

But eventually offices will go back and we’ll see a more hybrid way of working – a couple of days in the office, a couple of days at home. The challenge then becomes how to ensure that people can work and collaborate as efficiently and productively from home as they can from the office. The IT operations model needed to support this is what Gartner calls ‘anywhere operations’.

“Anywhere operations enable organisations to decentralise staff and activate operations where it makes business sense. It even makes way for broader talent choices as organisations do not need to necessarily recruit staff in a specific geography,” said Gartner research vice president Jeffrey Hewitt, speaking at a Gartner conference late last year.

At the start of the pandemic, businesses made rushed decisions to get their IT infrastructure ready to support mass working from home. As we emerge from the crisis, businesses need to take stock and ask themselves: is my IT infrastructure ready to support the way my business is working now – and in the future?

 

The right place

Whilst it’s possible to help people work more productively from home, experience shows that home working is better suited to some tasks than to others. If you need to concentrate on a piece of work or undertake detailed research, home is often the most productive place to be. However, if you want to brainstorm ideas or meet with colleagues, the face-to-face interaction of the office wins hands down. In many ways, a hybrid working model offers businesses the best of both worlds. Having the flexibility to choose the right place for the right activity is pretty compelling, provided the place is up to the task. Time to mothball the car office and invest in a proper set-up for home.

 

Learn more about Step5 and the work that we do to help organisations provide seamless and secure working environments that meet the needs of their people and the changing demands of modern business.