Is working from home working?
EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies
‘Whatever you’ve been doing during the pandemic, it isn’t working from home.
If you’re one of the 50 percent able to work from home, you’re likely to spend much more time logged into work.
Sitting in a makeshift office in your bedroom - haphazardly constructed so it looks professional on Zoom calls.
You were frantically tapping out an email while making lunch – or supervising some work activity. Stuck alone in a cramped apartment – unable to see friends or colleagues.
Work has become life – and life has become work.
You’re literally living at work.
Here’s our nightmare scenario – a fully remote future.’ (1)
OK - Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is hardly your typical office worker.
Salary - $1 (large salaries for corporate CEOs don’t go down well).
Estimated wealth - $134 billion - named the second richest American tech CEO by Forbes in 2021. (2)
And, while we know you’re a valued employee, does your company send $3 million on your security each year? (3)
There’s one thing though that Zuckerberg has in common with a lot of office workers.
He likes working from home.
In a recent memo published in the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ Zuckerberg says he intends to work from home six-months a year:
‘Working from home gives me space for my long-term thinking and helps me spend more time with my family. This has made me happier – and more productive at work.
I expect over half of Facebooks employees to work remotely in the not too distant-future.’ (4)
In the early days of Covid, the rise in the numbers working from home looked a win-win.
Productivity increased – employees were logged on for longer hours. (5)
Employees spent more time with family and didn’t need to commute to the office - breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the kids (and the dog).
The use of technology was revolutionized – the future of work arriving early.
Finance managers beamed in delight – the cost of expensive downtown office space removed from their monthly budgets.
But research and literature are now challenging the rosy outcomes.
Recent research by Cambridge University finds that, while workers are logged on at home longer, they’re now less productive than those in the office - there are more unproductive meetings, for example – ‘we overschedule our calendars to compensate for the lack of social interaction.’ (6)
(Unsurprisingly, employees with young children record the largest productivity gap between working from home and the office.) (7)
A recent study of the Japanese economy reveals that workers at home are a massive one third less productive – and Japan isn’t a nation that’s used to such findings. (8)
Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan have already declared a return to the office - as they believe employees are more productive there. (9)
Mental Health and Loneliness
A huge amount of material has been published on employee wellbeing – exploring the impact on mental health of home working - and the ‘jury is out.’
(Polls show we want to continue working from home – at least part of the time). (10)
But what if it isn’t good for us - or those we work for?
In a recent article, ‘Loneliness at work: a hidden menace,’ for example, the Sydney Morning Herald said:
‘You’d be forgiven for feeling lonely these past few months.
Especially if you’re in Melbourne.
Where once we hoped for an employer flexible enough to let us work from home, now many of us hope for an employer safe enough to let us back into the office. (11)
Made worse during the pandemic, loneliness is a big issue.
Not only being alone – but having reduced quality of connection.
The Harvard Business Review reports:
‘The rates of loneliness at work have increased due to the pandemic - putting the wellbeing of employees top of the list for most companies as they map out the future of work.
It’s well known that loneliness can bring:
Depression and increased levels of anxiety. (12)
And at work, there’s evidence to indicate the spill-over impacts include:
Reduced job performance.
Poor decision making.
Higher levels of burnout – due to the distress caused by the failure to connect meaningfully with others.
Employee turnover. (13)
"The young, who in a remarkable development, now report levels of loneliness that surpass even those of the elderly. And medical researchers have found that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When technology erodes the need to meet up with people, our social skills are eroded, weakening our ability to meet new people." (14)
Sense of belonging
According to Harvard Business School professor, Ashley Williams, extensive working from home has reduced the social contact people need to be successful - and made us forget what we liked about our jobs.
"We are social animals who flourish in the company of others. My workplace has always been crucial to my sense of belonging. The hallway chat, the catch up with a colleague on the train to work, the joking with the barista when I collect my coffee….’
Companies that adopt hybrid work models where the office is an occasional meeting place, will be at a competitive disadvantage.’(15)
EGM Top Tips
At EGM, we’re fully behind remote and hybrid working.
However, we need to keep improving arrangements – so there continues to be a win-win-win: for our team, our clients, and our company.
Here are our top tips:
Check-in: if colleagues are working from home a lot, check in with them on a regular basis. A simple video call to make sure they’re OK – don’t just talk about work.
If staff are coming into the office, all come in on the same day (s) - arrange a team meeting or a lunch or a social activity on those days
Think through very carefully how you’re going to onboard new staff – it’s harder starting a new job and having a great onboarding experience when we’re all working from home – and a successful onboarding is important
Cut out any hint of a presenteeism culture - looking to see who had a ‘green tick’ next to their name on Teams - showing they’re available at 6pm.
Buddy team members up – allocate everyone a buddy in the team – make sure everyone speaks to their buddy weekly.
Give team members tasks that use their strengths – keeping them motivated and engaged.
And finally –look out for each other:
In his book ‘The Promises of Giants,’ John Amaechi says:
"There are so many people in our workplace who are afflicted by loneliness, insecurity or anxiety – and the pandemic has made things worse.
Their ability to get through the day is dramatically enhanced by authentic interactions with people who truly see them.
They face the day with a sense of dread – for all the rubbish that will be strewn in front of them. But if they can count on one smiling face that will sincerely ask how they’re doing, it makes a world of difference. It can be a life raft through choppy waters." (16).
Says it all.
Out of office, Charles Warzel and Helen Ann Petersen
The richest U.S. tech billionaires on the 2021 Forbes 400 list, forbes.com
Facebook spent $3 million on Mark Zuckerberg’s security last year, www. Dedline.com, 9 April 2021
Facebook lets more employees choose full-time remote working, Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2021
See, is it time to admit hybrid work isn’t working? Financial Times, 8 January 2022
Is it time to admit hybrid work isn’t working? Financial Times, 8 January 2022
People working from home less productive, Evening Standard, 4 November 2021
Study of worker productivity, Japanese Research Institute of Economy, Trade, and Industry
Companies push back their return to the office, Forbes, 3 January 2022
Is it time to admit that hybrid is not working? Financial Times, 8 January 2022
Loneliness at work: a hidden menace, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2020
For a discussion on the links between loneliness and depression and anxiety, see Lost connections by Johann Hart
Employees are lonelier than ever. Here’s how employers can help, Harvard Business Review, 9 June 2021
The power of talking to strangers, Joe Keohane
The promised of giants, John Amaechi