This is the second of a five-series on the key realities of remote work imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite having to carve out a place to work, set boundaries with spouses, and manage children who are learning remotely, productivity actually went up when workers stayed home. Given that there was a greater opportunity for privacy while working, it's not surprising that productivity went up.
Remote working reverses the movement towards open plan offices that have proven to be far less productive than quiet, dedicated spaces, whether at home or at co-working locations.
Several recent studies on "open plan" offices have refuted the idea that removing physical separation between employees improves collaboration and sparks innovation. One such study published on the National Institutes of Health website (the same folks helping with COVID-19) included the wearing of sensors by employees for a 15-day period before and after an interior renovation from cubicles to open plan seating. Those conducting the study were able to demonstrate that face-to-face interaction actually decreased after moving to a open plan seating.
"In two intervention-based field studies of corporate headquarters transitioning to more open office spaces, we empirically examined—using digital data from advanced wearable devices and from electronic communication servers—the effect of open office architectures on employees' face-to-face, email and instant messaging (IM) interaction patterns. Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases, with an associated increase in electronic interaction [my bold]. In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from office-mates and interact instead over email and IM. "
If open plan seating tends to make employees retreat to electronic communications anyway, then we're not losing much in the way of communication while they're working remotely.
Remote working elevates ergonomics in the home office, as companies set up their employee home workspaces.
Once it became clear that the pandemic lockdown was going to last more than a few weeks, companies started to think about providing more than just a laptop for their employees to use. Perching a laptop on the coffee table for hours on end became unsustainable, and employees started asking for proper furniture and an ergonomic chair in which to sit. Smart companies either provided either a catalog of suitable furniture for which the company would pay, or they provided a stipend that allowed employees to find furniture that suited the available space.
Remote working reduces interruptions from co-workers dropping by, loud conversations, or noisy work environments.
A January 2019 article in Fast Company cites the reality that:
"Employees hate open offices. They're distracting. They're loud. There's often little privacy. 'The sensory overload that comes with open-office plans gets to a point where I can barely function,' says one 47-year-old graphic designer who has spent more than two decades working in open environments. 'I even had to quit a job once because of it.'"
Even if employees are contending with spouses and kids around, they have more control over their environment at home then they do at the office.
Remote working promotes the scheduling of interactions with others so that time can be blocked out and kept for productivity.
The people who are most likely to be unhappy with the idea that they have to schedule interactions with employees are the managers. Instead of stopping by and interrupting the employee to have a conversation, the manager has to wait, or so it seems. This is where a little creativity and planning comes in. Most companies have an available chat option (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc.) that managers can use to replace the tap on the shoulder. Employees can respond just as quickly, and managers can see whether an employee is busy in a meeting or away from their desk.
There's no question that adjustments need to be made to accommodate remote work. But the upside realities for embracing remote work far outweight the downsides of resisting the change. If you'd like to brainstorm about what's possible for your company, just visit www.TalkToToolie.com to schedule an Executive Strategy Session.