Work Anywhere

Working from home: The research is in

What studies show about working from home may surprise you. Here are eight things business leaders can learn the research.

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Remote working, telecommuting, working from home. Whatever you call it, since the pandemic more workplaces are offering or even expecting employees to work from home at least some of the time.

Is home working just a trend, or is there evidence to support whether it works? I decided to find out what the research had to say. Here are eight crucial findings.

1. Remote work is common

Gartner’s 2021 survey of 10,000 digital workers found remote workers represent 32 percent of the workforce worldwide. 64 percent said they were more likely to consider a role that allowed flexible hours over one that didn’t.

What’s the opportunity?

Offering flexible working is now the norm. If your business isn’t there yet, you may have to have some tough conversations to get things moving. Today’s the day to start.

2. Homeworking could give you an extra day per week

A Stanford study that monitored around 500 employees in China’s largest travel agency for two years found working from home increased productivity by over 20 percent. That’s equivalent to an extra working day each week.

The increase in productivity came from several ways employees changed how they were working. They took fewer breaks and less time off (such as sick days), but mostly, they just got through more work.

Professor of Economics, Nicholas Bloom, explained these findings in his TedX Stanford talk.

What’s the opportunity?

If you want to improve productivity, make sure home working is on the table. If you’re already doing it but it’s not delivering, your policy may need review, so the next point is salient.

3. It’s not for everyone

The same Stanford study found that after the trial work-from-home period, around half the participants decided to be office-based in the future.

What’s the opportunity?

Everyone’s an individual, and your business homeworking policy should reflect this. Flexible or home working also means taking into account each employee’s role, needs and preferences. Reconsider an ‘all or nothing’ approach to home working.

4. Remote workers struggle to ‘switch off’

Two large studies during the pandemic found home-workers were working longer hours than they had in the office. They reported taking shorter breaks, working through sickness and not logging off until as late as 8pm. 55 percent wanted their employer to communicate and expect work only within the usual hours.

What’s the opportunity?

Switching off and unwinding makes us better at our work. We should see it as part of our job. More so if we work from home, because the research suggests it’s harder to do.

Review your organization’s health and well-being policy. If it doesn’t place value on employees taking breaks and switching off, it should.

No matter your seniority, you can cultivate a culture that values unwinding and doesn’t expect your employees to be ‘always on’ just because they’re at home, particularly if you’re working with team members across multiple time zones.

5. The value of homeworking may depend on the type of work

A 2021 study of over 700 academics working from home during the pandemic found nearly half reported being less efficient while working from home, but 70 percent thought they’d be more efficient if they could decide in the future when to work from home. The academics seemed to think the ideal scenario is choosing when to work from home and when not to, depending on what work they had to do. They thought home working made them less good at sharing with colleagues, keeping in touch with the team and collecting data, but better at writing papers, reading the literature and analyzing data.

What’s the opportunity?

Hybrid working – combining remote and in-office work – is a great option, especially for those teams whose work varies between requiring focus and requiring collaboration. Let your staff choose as much as possible when to work where, but make sure there are opportunities for sharing with colleagues.

6. Cybercriminals have noticed more people are working from home

Researchers noted the first wave of coronavirus-themed attacks used the situation to spread scams, by way of phishing, ransomware and malware. But it’s not just individuals who are vulnerable. Whole organizations can get distracted.

Banking on a lack of IT resources and vulnerabilities like legacy software, targets have included educational institutions and government agencies that have been in the news for conducting learning and business remotely.

What’s the opportunity?

Kaspersky’s white paper Remote working: How to make the laptop lifestyle flow sweetly (and securely) for your business is a good place to start for security measures that enable remote working.

In the event of a cybersecurity incident, prioritize good communication. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to coronavirus email scammers pretending to be them is an excellent example of a promptly issued statement in plain language that raises awareness of cybercrime.

7. Young talent values working from home, but needs much face-to-face time too

Ipsos Mori and Nationwide 2021 research found Gen Z and Millennials were more likely than any other group to want to work from home three or more days a week. On the other hand, half believed working from home was straining their health and wellbeing and similar numbers said they needed face-to-face time with colleagues to be effective at work.

What’s the opportunity?

If you’re having trouble attracting early talent like graduates and apprentices, it’s another reason to look at your flexible-working offer. Ipsos Mori’s Dr Linda Papadopoulos suggests, “championing a flexible working approach on where and when staff work, by helping them to find a work pattern which balances their work and life.”

8. Offering remote working helps attract and retain more diverse talent

Being more supportive of remote and flexible working will help companies attract and retain more women, in part because women are far more likely than men to shoulder care responsibilities. As this Felstead and Henseke research shows, working from home helps employees adapt to personal circumstances.

But what about other groups under-represented in your workplace? Seekout describes remote working as “the single best secret of diversity recruitment.” They cite the desire to work remotely as at the top of the list for many job-seekers, attracting more applicants overall, and homeworking has apparent attractions for women and disabled people.

Where’s the opportunity?

You can only gain more top talent by making sure your job adverts highlight flexible working as a benefit. It’s in the top two employee benefits applicants care most about.

Attracting more applicants is, of course, just the first step in building a more diverse workforce. Minimizing unconscious bias helps make sure the best applicants get hired.

Every company’s needs are unique; many industries need the presence of people to make and deliver goods and services, serve customers or devise ideas together. But consider if your non-frontline staff could benefit from having the option to work at least some of the time remotely.

These findings can support you in finding the best way to harness the power of remote working and guide you around common pitfalls. The one that gives me the most pause for thought (pun intended) is the importance of switching off and taking a break. No matter who you are – from apprentice to chief executive – your most important work might not just happen in your home office. It might be when you’re doing nothing at all.

What employees want

Kaspersky asked employees what they want from their roles, now and in the future.

About authors

Suraya Casey is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based in New Zealand. Her interests include cybersecurity, technology, climate, transport, healthcare and accessibility.