Working from home may not be so great
Vaccinated people may be cleared to resume their lives as usual before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has changed our behaviors forever, and our workplaces will never be the same.
More than 95 percent of American consumers say at least one lifestyle change they made in response to the coronavirus will become permanent, according to the consulting firm Accenture. Among the most popular were working from home, changing travel patterns and a desire to shop locally.
“The ripple effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time,” said Oliver Wright, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods industry group. “Born out of disaster and necessity comes opportunity; the pandemic has sparked a new wave of innovation.”
The pandemic forced many companies to innovate much faster than they anticipated. A CEO who may have been pondering cloud-based computing had the choice taken away when employees began working from home.
Dine-in restaurants that may have been considering a catering business suddenly became to-go operations. Local retailers that did not post inventory online had no other channel to sell products.
Consumers also adapted quickly to a new way of doing business. People in Houston who rarely used e-commerce before the pandemic increased their online shopping 410 percent, Accenture found.
The pandemic’s most significant impact on the workplace, though, may be the work-fromhome experiment. No other topic sparks as much discussion, and the data on its effectiveness remains unclear.
One thing is sure:No one is rushing back into road warrior mode. Companies saved a lot of money by relying on video calls instead of airlines. Nearly a third of Houstonians who traveled for work said they would take fewer business trips in the future.
Most workers do not want to resume their daily commute either. Accenture found 83 percent of workers want a hybrid arrangement where theyy go into the office only when it makes sense.
More interestingly, 84 percent of Houstonians say they want to work from a third space, neither their home nor office: a coffee
shop, vacation spot or coworking space. And nearly half of them are willing to spend their own money for the privilege.
Instead of hotels and cafes catering to out-oftown business travelers, these businesses could become refuges for local workers looking to escape their kids and pets.
But all of that work outside the office may not benefit employers, according to a working paper from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago. Researchers examined personnel and analytics data from more than 10,000 skilled professionals at a large Asian IT services company, comparing productivity before and during the work-fromhome period.
“Total hours worked increased by roughly 30 percent, including a rise of 18 percent in working after normal business hours. Average output did not significantly change. Therefore, productivity fell by about 20 percent,” the data show.
As anyone working in a house full of people can attest, the number of uninterrupted hours spent working shrank. Time spent in meetings increased, while networking and one-on-one mentoring dropped off. Managers should be worried.
“This decrease in productivity did not result in a decline in average output, because time worked compensated for it,” the authors concluded. “It would be interesting to see if this change was sustainable over a longer period of time, especially in light of evidence of the adverse effect of long work hours on employee well-being, mental and physical health.”
Because parents with children at home experienced the worst effects from working at home, the results could differ when children are in school. Further research could show the 15-minute break taken to run a load of laundry was not a distraction from work but helped the employee clear their head.
More damaging to the company could be the loss of interaction between older and younger workers. Mentoring is critical to developing the next generation of leaders, and it’s a lot easier to walk across the room than to book a phone call. The quality of the interaction is also higher.
In a survey conducted a few weeks ago, most companies did not have a return-to-office date, according to outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Only 17 percent of 191 companies polled had resumed normal operations.
Challenger found 97 percent of companies would not require the vaccine in a March survey, but 57 percent said they would strongly encourage it. In the new poll, nearly 40 percent are offering or would consider offering incentives.
One thing is clear. If you want workers to return to the office, or you want to return, the key is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.