Since its arrival in the 1970s, working from home has been a hotly debated topic. At the centre of the debate is productivity. Are employees who work from home more or less productive than they would be in the office? Can teams achieve the same level of collaboration virtually?
To attract and retain talent, many organizations have been offering flexible working arrangements for quite a while now. For some companies, having employees work from home has also been a good way to keep overhead costs low. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic made remote work arrangements the new norm for many of us. From 2016 to 2021, the percentage of Canadians working from home jumped from 4% to 32%. A recent study looks at the balance between organizational and personal performance in telecommuting scenarios. The results were mixed. The key seems to be letting employees decide how they would like to work.
“Establishing clear, consistent expectations and providing employees with the flexibility to adapt their own schedule will increase the employee’s motivation and productivity,” says Kelly Hultink, a Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. There are some obvious benefits to employees who work remotely; however, Kelly reminds us that it’s not preferred by everyone and there are some definite psychological health and safety issues that can arise. “One of the biggest concerns when we’re looking at the impact of working from home versus in the office, is the potential for isolation and loneliness,” says Kelly.
According to the study, when working from home becomes mandatory, the impact on both organizational and personal performance may not be as positive as when employees chose it themselves. It comes down to control. When employees have control over their working conditions, they are generally happier. “Employees who are recognized and involved are productive employees,” says Kelly. A good example of this is giving employees the option to adjust their hours. Some may choose to start their workday earlier, while others may prefer to work later into the evening. As long as everyone is available during core business hours, giving employees this flexibility contributes to their work-life balance and personal happiness, which leads to productivity. The same is true when you let employees choose where they work—home or office. “Some employees find that home is not necessarily a conducive workspace and would rather go to the office,” says Kelly. “So, it’s important to give employees the choice because they know what will work best for them.”
3 tips for remote teams
When your team predominately works from home, follow these tips to ensure it’s a positive experience for your employees and the organization.
Communicate regularly. “Those social connections are key, even in a virtual environment,” reminds Kelly. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out more about each other.” She recommends scheduling regular check-ins and understanding that they don’t all have to be about work. Get to know each other on a personal level the same way you would if you worked near each other in an office.
Outline clear expectations with policies and procedures. The best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page is to have clear policies for things like email response time, when you should be reachable via phone or video chat, and when you disconnect. Determine with your team if the expectation is that cameras are on or off during virtual meetings. Removing ambiguity around these behaviours will help maintain effective workflow.
Provide training that applies to working in a virtual environment. “You have to keep up with regular mandatory training and find the best way to deliver it virtually, but think about other topics that may be beneficial to people working from home,” says Kelly. She recommends training on cyberbullying as an extension of violence and harassment training. Cybersecurity training may also be more of a priority when you have employees telecommuting. “Consider having an ergonomic assessment to ensure your workplace is designed to meet your specific needs. Also, provide training to employees on how to access resources, like EFAP, employee benefits, crisis lines, etc.,” says Kelly.
How WSPS can help
- Safety Connection - The Impact of Psychosocial Factors, Ergonomics and Mental Health, February 8 (1.5 hours)
Visit our Workplace Mental Health Training collection page to view additional courses