Despite the worst fears of managers, evidence is now growing that productivity hasn’t slumped because of the lockdown. In fact in many cases it has increased. People have saved time by not commuting, they waste less time in meetings and they can choose to work when they feel most productive.
A survey of about 1,000 employers across theUK and Europe, carried out by Willis Towers Watson, found that only 15% of companies reported a moderate or large loss of productivity. A corresponding 15% reported a positive impact. 43% said either ‘no impact’ or ‘small negative impact’. Another survey conducted by Censuswide for Hoxby, showed that 71% of office bosses are pleasantly surprised by team productivity during lockdown despite 54% being nervous about their teams remote working before the pandemic. But the most significant finding was that 52% of office managers say their teams are MORE PRODUCTIVE remote working than in an office.
Those of us who have been studying flexible and remote working for years are hardly surprised. We’ve known that home working involves managers trusting their employees and letting them get on with their own job. This trust is repaid by individuals who performing the work without needing close supervision and take responsibility for managing their own time. They are less stressed because they are in control of their lives and are not forced to be present at work at the same time as meeting other personal or family priorities.
Managers have learned that leaving people to get on with the job does not result in them sitting at home watching TV all day. Instead people have managed to overcome the difficulties of lockdown and still work effectively. In many cases they have had to combine childcare, home schooling and helping elderly neighbours with doing their work. If productivity can hold up under these circumstances, imagine what it will be like when people will be working at home by choice. When the schools and nurseries are open again and people can safely come back to the office will they want to return? They have proved they can get the job done from home, they’ve saved the hassle of commuting and they know they are more productive as well.
A recent survey from O2, withe ICM and YouGov, showed that 45% of the workforce predict a permanent change to their company’s approach to flexible working after lockdown. 33% expect to increase the amount they work from home by at least three days a week after lockdown and a massive 81% expect to work at least one day a week from home. It’s a very short sighted employer who insists that people who have been working from home return to work the way they did before the lockdown. But many managers may be tempted to return to ‘business as usual’ because they haven’t learned from the crisis. They will see the home working period as an interruption to ‘normal’ working life.
The Hoxby survey reinforces the message that the changes are here to stay. 70% of business owners and 78% of senior management agree ‘remote working is the future of my organisation’. Some are going further with 34% of business owners now considering moving to an entirely remote office. Already many major employers are publicly recognising the shift in work patterns. The Chief Executive of Barclays, who currently have 70,000 people working from home, has said that a big city office “may be a thing of the past”. Facebook, Google and other Internet companies have welcomed a long term shift to home working and Twitter has offered all staff the option of working for home permanently.
Any organisation that chooses to ignore the benefits of home working, both to employer and employee, will suffer the consequences. They will miss out on the productivity improvements, employee engagement will drop and staff will leave to work elsewhere when they can. Now people have tasted the freedom of managing their own work schedule and proved they can be trusted, they are not about to go back willingly to the old regime. Is your organisation ready for this revolution in working practices or are you still stuck with your head in the sand ignoring the mounting evidence that the world has changed forever?