Coping with working from home and its effect on businesses

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Due to the corona crisis, the entire population is currently being asked to “keep their distance” in order to slow down the spread of the virus. Many business have responded by having their employees work from home. Is this period of unusual isolation having an effect on their productivity? How can businesses support their work force at this time? The following study provides some initial pointers.

Unfortunately, for the moment we are being asked to practice social distancing. But it is physical distancing that helps against spreading the coronavirus. That said, social distancing has proven to be a negative outcome of physical distancing and ought to be avoided. Psychologists have warned that we may experience an increase in cases of anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders as a result of social distancing. As far as businesses are concerned, the fact that their employees are now working from home begs the question as to whether or not this will lead to a decrease in their productivity. Many speculations have already been made on the subject, which prompted me to compile a questionnaire for 122 employees in the United States. At the time of the questionnaire, many more workers in the US were still going about their business as normal, i.e. not working from home, which in turn allowed for a comparison of the two groups. Even if the data only provide a preliminary view of the current situation, we can still gain some valuable insight from them.

Encouraging Results from the USA

I am happy to report that my data have shown that employees who are being asked to work from home because of the coronavirus are actually more motivated and willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for their colleagues and for the company itself. How does this tie in with the experts’ warning bells concerning social isolation and what does this mean for businesses? Social psychology has provided us with one explanation for this. This states that humans will actively intensify their contact with others as a defense mechanism against the dangers of social isolation, a theory which has been supported by my data. Rather than socially isolating, people working from home have increased their level of contact with their co-workers, particularly with the ones they have a good relationship with, via Skype, e-mail, or on the telephone. The motivating effects of having social contact are well-known, and the results here have been high levels of performance. This brings us to the conclusion that physical distancing among co-workers has, if not somewhat surprisingly, led to more rather than less productivity.

What Businesses Should Do Now

Businesses and managers are now being met with the task of how best to assist their employees in connecting with their colleagues, particularly virtually. Have faith that your employees will take it upon themselves to connect with one another, but take action to ensure that the conditions are optimal in order for them to do so. For example, businesses and managers ought to see that employees can still be reached. It should be communicated that core working hours need to be maintained, but an infrastructure for easy communication between colleagues should also be in place. This infrastructure will not only ensure that important appointments are being kept but also that co-workers are able to spend their coffee or lunch breaks together. Another possibility for consideration is to have an “open door policy” that encourages workers to change their Skype status to “online”, signaling to others that they are available for spontaneous communication if need be. With a little creativity, all of the planned and unplanned encounters of a regular working day “offline” can be recreated virtually.

Examining Long-Term Effects

Against all odds, people being forced to work at home because of the coronavirus has quite possibly led to more rather than less productivity. At first glance the situation would not seem as desperate as the media sometimes suggests. In fact, the current situation has provided us with new opportunities. Perhaps now is the time for us to organize our workload more effectively. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will begin to see the long-term effects working from home is having on the productivity and well-being of those currently doing so. I will continue to keep you up-to-date here with any new data. As for now, it is already fair to say that businesses that are conquering the virtual wave of working remotely are at a considerable advantage, and perhaps they will continue to do so even after the crisis.

[1] Focus Online (2020, 25 March). ´Depression, Angst, Schlafstörungen: Forscher erklären, was Kontaktverbot mit uns macht.‘ (Depression, Anxiety, Sleep Disorders: Researchers Explain The Effects of Restricting Physical Contact): https://www.focus.de/gesundheit/news/kontaktverbot-wissenschaftler-rechnen-mit-depression-angst-und-schlafstoerungen_id_11809201.html

Corona Crisis: Analyses & Comments
This news is part of the Corona series of analyses and comments with KLU researchers regarding different aspects of the effects of the ongoing coronacrisis on our daily lifes, the economy, our way we work and more. Find all analyses and comments.  

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