A workforce whose numbers equal the population of France (66 million) suddenly finds itself working from home in the U.S. as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For comparison, just 4.7 million workers telecommuted to work one year ago.
By almost any measure, the U.S. workplace is undergoing its largest and most sudden transformation since the start of World War II. The same is true in Europe, Asia and beyond. Almost overnight, the world of work has been turned inside out.
By now, professional managers and administrators in many countries have largely completed efforts to get workers “back on their feet.” Among other things, they have established Zoom accounts for their employees, purchased a record number of notebook computers and adjusted workplace regulations so that employees can work from almost anywhere and at any time.
These efforts pale in comparison to the workplace makeovers that are likely coming next. Given that experts including Workplace Analytics expect 25-30% of the workforce to work from home at least part-time after 2021, organizations everywhere are rethinking everything — and with good reason. A recent survey on employee experience from McKinsey & Co. found that employees working remotely “see more positive effects on their daily work, are more engaged, and have a stronger sense of well-being than those in nonremote jobs with little flexibility.”
Good news, right?
Yes and no. The same study also found that more than 80% of respondents say the pandemic is materially affecting their daily work lives. Studies reveal that working from home has added between one and three extra hours of work per day. Another study found that 40% of remote workers experience mental exhaustion from video calls.
What these mixed results suggest is that employers have a rare opportunity to remake the workplace into something more productive, sustainable and humane if they can apply lessons learned from pandemic appropriately.
Again, take working from home.
Prior to the pandemic, working from home was one of the good things about the modern workforce. Study after study reveals that employees who work from home outperform those tethered to the office. A study of examiners who work for the U.S. Patent & Trade Office, for example, found that workers who transitioned from the office to their homes increased their productivity by 4.4%. More recently, a study completed by Prodoscore, a developer of digital dashboard solutions that help organizations measure and monitor workplace productivity, found work-from-home employees outperformed their office counterparts by a whopping 47%.
Given all the recent changes to the workforce, however, many managers will be tempted to make changes to work from home arrangements. Among other things, they will want greater oversight of regulatory compliance, organizational productivity and worker morale. To get it, some may go so far as to outfit employee devices with keylogging or even spyware software. Others will be tempted to schedule more meetings or demand more documentation to make workers accountable. While well-intended, these efforts will reduce output and/or destroy trust if implemented recklessly.