The New Reality of Working Remotely with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

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Working from home is the new normal for a lot of workers in the US, and around the world.

There has been much debate about working from home and whether or not it’s a productivity boost or productivity drain. Skeptical managers envision employees lying on their couches at home in Metallica concert t-shirts eating Doritos and watching daytime television.

Employees who have previously been told they cannot work from home are now being forced into it, especially because of the coronavirus crisis. These same professionals are juggling other responsibilities such as children being off school and how to provide childcare.

But Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom has definitive data that paints a very different picture about the new reality of working remotely. He indicates it’s time once and for all to embrace the benefits of working from home, especially if you’re a business professionals who’s wondering how to cope with this for the foreseeable future.

Watch his TEDx presentation here about working from home for businesses.

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found a willing lab rat for a ground-breaking experiment in his graduate economics class at Stanford.

He tapped the expertise of James Liang, co-founder and CEO of Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, with more than 16,000 employees. The CEO was interested in giving employees the work-from-home option because office space in the company’s Shanghai HQ is extremely expensive and because employees had to endure long commutes to work (not being able to afford city living). The result without the freedom of work from home policies was horrendously high attrition.

Liang wanted to make the work-from-home move but needed proof it wouldn’t tank productivity. Watch the TEDx here.

Enter Professor Bloom, who designed a test where 500 employees were divided into two groups. One group was a control group who worked at HQ and one group was volunteers to work-from-home. Those who worked from home had to have a private room at home, at least six-month tenure with Ctrip, and good broadband connectivity.

Some of the largest challenges of working from home were surprising

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom expected the positives and negatives to offset each other.

But he was wrong.

  • The robust two-year study showed an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to an entire day’s work.
  • Work-from-home employees work a true full-shift (or more) versus being late to the office or leaving early multiple times a week and found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.
  • Employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the telecommuters, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off.
  • Ctrip reduced carbon emissions from fewer autos clogging up the morning commute.
  • The company saved almost $2,000 per employee on rent by reducing the amount of HQ office space.

Loneliness and isolation were the largest reported concerns

One surprising finding did put a cautionary facade over this experiment: Loneliness and isolation were the largest reported concern among remote workers.

The effects of this included symptoms such as increased stress levels and bad decision making. These symptoms are difficult for employers to detect. Not to mention, more than half the volunteer group changed their minds about working from home 100 percent of the time because they felt too much isolation.

Different strategies work for different people. Some employees will prefer to be completely isolated, while some need certain times of interaction with peers.

For instance, both Best Buy and Yahoo called their workers back to the office over claims of better ‘impromptu collaboration’ increasing productivity. Each faced criticism, internally and externally for their decision, and were subsequently perceived as traitors to the movement of the work-from-home-progression.

Additional points to consider for your work from home staff

As your company works through other logistical challenges of your staff working from home, here are some additional points to consider.

  • Set specific working hours and boundaries with your employees and colleagues and help each other get through this.
  • Use tools for video chatting like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Skype in communicating and remember that not everything needs to be on a work topic. Sometimes sharing funny videos, the latest news or catching up on the news can be good ways to socialize and feel less isolated.
  • If you’re a manager of people, you should be providing the tools necessary to communicate and work effectively, as well as instructions on how to use them.
  • Whether you’re managing or in a team it’s important to get 1:1 time with your colleagues, peers, Mastermind members, and employees in order to give updates on day-to-day operations.

All in all, Professor Bloom found that data suggests that working from home is the new reality in the gig economy.

Contact us here for guidance in ensuring your business has reliable remote access policies in place during the COVID-19 crisis.