Remote workers prove they’re pulling their weight

Nicola Mortimer, eir Business
Nicola Mortimer, eir Business

TechBeat and eir survey shows increased satisfaction among remote workers

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2 December 2020 | 0

Last April, TechBeat in association with eir conducted the first working from home survey which laid bare the effects of a sudden shift in working patterns on IT professionals. The previous picture showed a workforce equipped but generally unused to working from home for more than a few days at a time.

Six months on, TechBeat and eir return to the subject, with a survey of 263 employees from across all industry sectors sharing their experiences of six months of enforced home working with a reconfigured family life and regular video calls over platforms. Has Covid-19 made working from home a default option, or is the office still the venue of choice?

We conducted our survey in October when Level 3 restrictions were in place nationally. Under these conditions families and individuals could only mix with one other household, there were to be no social or family gatherings, no more than 25 people could attend a wedding and indoor events and sports fixtures (except for elite sports) were banned. Bars, cafes and restaurants could remain open as take away only and outdoor dining was permitted to a limit of 15 people. Working from home was permitted for frontline workers and recommended for everyone else.

 

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The home front

When our survey was taken the country had completed its first Level 5 lockdown and was operating under a more liberal regime. This is borne out by our results that show more than a quarter of respondents (28%) were mixing their time between the home and the office. A comfortable majority (63%) were working from home.

The absence of a daily commute came with some obvious benefits, with 55% saying they had achieved a better work/life balance and roughly half saying they have been varying their working hours. Indeed, when asked for general comments the point about the lack of a tiring commute and having more family time featured heavily.

Attention span

From an employers’ perspective, the pandemic has offered a proof of concept that prolonged remote working does not lead to diminishing returns. There is definitely a ‘wellness dividend’ as evidenced by our respondents’ comparison between working from home and the office. Our survey revealed overwhelming support for regular home working, with only 14% reporting either some or significant drop in productivity. Almost half (45%) reported an improvement in productivity.

The move towards working from home has not come without challenges and respondents admitted that despite being able to set their own hours, time management and overworking was a concern. Almost two thirds (65%) of those polled cited overworking as a significant challenge, along with avoiding distractions (44%), childcare (18%) and finding a suitable workspace (25%).

From a technical standpoint, IT departments appear to be meeting the challenge. Technical issues did not factor as significant with suitable connectivity, hardware, software and training failing to register beyond 20%. Some interesting points in our ‘other’ category were finding the time to exercise, a lack of social interaction with colleagues and poor communication from management.

Looking towards maintaining client relationships does present a challenge. Despite a preponderance of collaboration tools, a full 38% of respondents said they have found it more difficult to interact with people they regularly did business with. Less than a fifth (15%) of our pool said it made it easier. That most (47%) said their engagement was about the same is hardly the endorsement of technology we were expecting. To say that at best, new technology has not adversely affected customer relationships will raise eyebrows among business owners. The lesson here is clear: you don’t have to be in the office to work well but there’s no substitute for in-person meetings.

Timetabling

Turning our attention to what happens next. At the time of writing a fresh relaxation of measures to Level 3 is on the way for the Christmas holiday season with no confirmation they will return to a higher level in January. It’s here that we get an insight into how organisations are predicting their future of work. According to our survey there is a complete deadlock with 43% seeing either no or limited return to work in the office. A mere 14% of respondents said their organisation had plans for a full-time return to previous conditions.

But are businesses adapting to make sure policies and technical measures are in place for the future? The answer is roughly ‘yes’ with 56% saying their organisations had implemented the policies and technical measures to sustain a remote workforce.

We also see a continued loosening up of management styles. In a related question 77% of respondents said they felt more trusted by management and only 33% said they were feeling left out when it came to opportunities for upskilling. Our pool of professionals is working from home but they are not alone.

Forward march

Looking to the future, we see the long-term learnings from Covid-19. When asked how often employees would like to work from home in an average week, 46% opted for three or more days a week, versus 42% for one or two days a week and 11% do not wish to work from home. For all our findings of better work/life balance a clear majority are enjoying the benefits of home working, such as a better work/life balance.

The appetite for office life is followed up by our question on how to find ways to work better with colleagues when working remotely. That almost half of respondents said they wanted digital social events shows the afterwork pint has enough value that even a digital catch-up is appreciated. On the flip side of having an opportunity to complain about management is the need for further engagement with supervisors and senior managers either directly or through digital town hall meetings.

Reacting to the findings, Nicola Mortimer, eir Business commercial director, said: “There’s an opportunity to make sure that your policies as a business are robust. If you rushed into doing things over the pandemic, now is the time to review them and make sure they’re built for the transformed future, not the immediate pandemic fix.

“It seems most people want to work from home some days, and from the office other days, so we need to plan for what our blended working future is like. There’s a new culture emerging. It’s an opportunity to reset ways of working and explore what that means for your company.

“Technology will become something we don’t think about any more. It will mean we can move onto focus on innovation and transformation in how we interact with our customers, our people and our teams. People want flexibility and they want to be part of a culture they see as progressive.

“People are apprehensive about going back into the office without having the vaccine. We need to keep that in mind when planning for the future,” she concluded.

With multiple vaccines nearing approval and plans for widescale immunisations being drawn up, the next time we visit this subject, we should see another shift in attitudes. It’s unlikely we’ll see as dramatic a turn, more a realisation that with digital transformation efforts continuing at an accelerated pace, employees will have the same level of control over their working environment and more freedom to decide how to exercise it. We’ll know more in a few months’ time.

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