With more than 150,000 people infected with COVID-19, working from home is the new reality for many employees in affected countries. Federal governments have requested organizations (both public and private) to follow work from home guidelines. In response to this multinational organisations like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, etc. announced that much of their workforce won't be coming to office. In India, organisations like Tata Motors, Cognizant, Flipkart, Ola, Wipro and Tech Mahindra, etc. have offered employees the option to work from home. However, several industry bodies believe that work from home could hurt operations especially the traditional firms which have never practiced this before.
Historically, work from home (referred to as telecommuting in social science) was advertised as a cost‐effective option for improving employee performance in case of dual‐earner couples. This type of work arrangement produces concrete and measurable business results as well. Given the benefits of telework, US Congress and European Union have long ago approved legislation supporting telecommuting arrangements for both private and public workers.
Tips for teleworkers to improve productivity
Establishing working hours. Research has shown appropriate telework hours increase labour productivity. Employees most likely will be able to maintain their office productivity while working remotely by adhering to usual office timings. Household chores, errands, and spending time with friends need to happen before or after work or may be during lunch hours. Adhering to organisation’s work from home policy will help as a guideline here.
Moreover, scholarly journals have reported that telework increases the stress of balancing work and domestic chores. But stress does not directly reduce labour productivity. Thus focusing on work during the established office hours and not getting distracted by home issues will help to eliminate stress.
- Structuring the work for the day. The defined work that has to be accomplished should be made clear in consultation with the telecommuting manager at the beginning of the day. Some of the work may require more creative and intuitive thinking which could be accomplished at the beginning of the day. More mundane and routine tasks may be scheduled for the second half of the work day.
Research has shown that higher the percentage of co‐workers working from home, the worse the individual performance of the employee. For managers, interaction with colleagues, whether or not someone is working from home, is the key to cooperation and efficiency, and it is a challenge to construct teams in which teleworkers work productively.
- Establishing a boundary with others. It is better to explain to friends, family, and other acquaintances one’s availability hours. Work from home is not synonymous with staying at home. It is better to settle in a quiet section of the house where one can shut the door and be out of sight. A silent room acts as a catalyst to productivity. Unexpected guests could be dealt diplomatically or can be entertained by family members.
- Get rid of distraction. Many of the electronic and electrical gadgets could be a distraction which may include smartphones, musical instruments, etc. Even newspapers and books could be a distraction. Packing them off to another room might be better to limit disturbance.
- Try to get comfortable. Office furniture is designed differently from home furniture. Given the limited time (may be few days till the virus outbreak subsides) when teleworking will be required, it’s better to get a good quality chair with back support on rent or from friends. One may consider an adjustable table or desk that can be raised to a perfect height. A comfortable work desk with necessary communication accessories will give an office-like feeling.
- Declutter the office area. The home office space has to be cleared of children’s toys, school books, stationary items, wrappers, etc. The work area has to be cleaned every day. This will help in increasing concentration. Usually in the office, there are housekeeping staff to manage and clean the work area. The same function has to be managed at home with own resources to get the most out of a day’s work.
- Natural lighting can be a mood booster. Look for areas where natural light flows in the apartment. Work desk can be moved close to windows while strategically positioning it to reduce glare. Curtains can also be added to help manage the amount of light that enters the workspace each day, particularly in the afternoon.
When working away from the office, teleworkers are able to significantly reduce contact with other co‐workers which is similar to social distancing being advocated by medical experts and industry bodies. Research has shown that working from home is associated with fewer interruptions resulting in more productive hours. Moreover, as nobody is physically monitoring the teleworking employee, teleworkers have shown greater discretion in how, under what conditions and sometimes when they can complete tasks. More autonomy and flexibility may lead to higher productivity. So, work from home comes with some perks like better work life balance, staying away from traffic congestion, and of course a healthier life away from COVID-19.