03 Jan Time to rethink working from home in 2022?
Thanks to the pandemic, the last two years have seen an explosion in the number of people working from home right across the globe. But as new research and studies begin to emerge on the impact of #wfh, is it time for us to re-think our home-work habits as we go into 2022?
Some of the studies have told us things we probably could have worked out for ourselves – it’s not been great for women. Some may come as a surprise – we’ve been a lot less productive than we may initially have thought.
Women have been disadvantaged working from home
Anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that women all over the globe felt the burden of lockdowns – with the expectation of combining home working with home schooling – was falling mainly on them.
And indeed, research by scientists at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich showed that working women in the US, UK and Germany did more childcare and home-schooling across all wage brackets in the early months of the pandemic, compared to men with similar earnings. The difference was even greater in couples where the man had worked outside the household during the pandemic.
Similarly, a study from the University of Chicago found that the productivity of those working from home fell by up to a fifth, especially among women (who it is assumed took the brunt of household and childcare tasks).
Working hours have increased, productivity hasn’t
Of course, though women may have suffered disproportionately, changes in working habits affected everyone working from home. One study found the average length of time an employee working from home in the UK, Austria, Canada and the US was logged on at their computer increased by more than two hours a day in the pandemic. In fact, UK workers were found to have increased their working week by almost 25% and, along with employees in the Netherlands, were logging off at 8pm,
Surprisingly, those extra hours didn’t result in a corresponding increase in productivity. Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) says that the productivity of employees when working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic was, on average, 30–40% lower than that in the office. A similar study from the US, using data from a survey of small and medium-sized firms, reported a decrease in productivity of about 20% on average.
We may make more mistakes working from home
Some people working at home felt they could concentrate better than when they were working in the office (apart from those struggling parents), but one study found that home working may actually lead to more mistakes. Researchers at the Rotterdam School of Management in Netherlands found that world-class chess players made worse moves when playing from home online than when facing their opponents over the board. They hypothesised that work tasks often require the same sort of skills as chess moves, such as analysis, strategy, and decision-making under pressure, and that it may be a sign that remote working may impact quality of work in the same way.
Of course, the decision to carry on working from home may not just be based on working hours and productivity. Quality of family life and the lack of a commute might also be big attractions. But all these studies do suggest that, as in so many areas, just because the technology exists to enable us to work from home, there may be complex and subtle human reasons that may mean it might not always be the best choice. Food for thought, as we go into 2022.