Navigating the virtual workplace

Posted on Aug 31, 2020 :: Commentary
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

It’s no secret our workplaces have changed dramatically since March. Instead of meeting with co-workers in a conference room for a meeting, everyone “gathers” for a Zoom call. And forget your office or cubicle, your workspace may now be a dining room table or another corner of your home that you’ve carved out for yourself.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 8 percent of employees worked from home at least one day a week. Once restrictions went into place and companies determined that keeping employees at home was safer than bringing everyone into the office, an estimated 60 percent of U.S. workers have worked remotely for some or all of the time since March.

But how effective are employees working from home?

According to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh COVID-19 Economic Impact Survey, which includes responses from business owners throughout the state, 43 percent of employers in July reported some level of comfort with their business’s ability to continue to work from home or return to the work-at-home model if necessary, while 25 percent expressed extreme discomfort with employees working at home. That’s quite a difference from April when more than 50 percent of employers expressed concern about their workers’ productivity when working from home.

According to research from Prodoscore, a California software company, productivity increased 47 percent compared with year-over-year numbers during the months of April and May. Among those surveyed, telephone calls increased 230 percent, CRM activity increased 176 percent and email usage increased 57 percent.

Meetings — now done virtually — decreased 22 percent, which the researchers credited for the productivity increase. Without so many meetings, workers can spend more time getting their actual work done, and have higher morale. While employers may worry, several studies have found employees are more productive out of the office.

A survey from Airtasker also found employees were more productive and worked more hours in a virtual office environment. Employees working virtually end up working 1.4 more days per month than when they were in the office. While several factors account for this, the survey noted more people are starting their workdays earlier since they no longer have to commute. While
all those extra hours sound great to business leaders, 29 percent of employees in that same study said they struggle more with work-life balance when working virtually than when in the office.

The study did find employees perform “dull” tasks better while sitting in a cubicle than those working remotely.

The reason is pretty simple: If you’re doing something boring, it’s easier to get distracted by your cat, a household chore
or social media. Yes, there are distractions in the office, but workers are aware that if they spend too much time away from their desk talking to someone else, a supervisor may take notice.

Workers in the office tend to be distracted more than employees working virtually, the study noted. Employees working from home lost 27 minutes per day on distractions compared to 37 minutes per day when working in the office.

The next nugget from the study did not surprise me. Employees working on creative work or tasks they find interesting are much more productive when at home. When at home, many find it easier to concentrate. That’s definitely true for me. I find it much easier to work on longer articles or more complicated projects when at home. It could be the more comfortable and quieter (usually) environment or being able to look outside while gathering my thoughts.

All workplaces are different. Some have already brought employees back in stages or in shifts while others have told their workers not to expect to be in the office until 2021. Sitting here in mid-August, both my husband and I have no idea when we’ll be returning to a regular office environment. I do know the longer I get to write articles from my armchair with a cat nearby and wearing comfy clothes, the harder it will be to go back to my cubicle. I’m sure I am not alone.