More than half of all Americans were suddenly forced to consider working from home when COVID-19 appeared. While many already enjoyed some remote work hours, the abrupt increase in demand placed strains on many. But as the dust has settled, many are now considering working from home more often. Likewise, employers are seeing some advantages of this new arrangement as well. But how will this change the traditional work week over time? Will the five-day work week still be the norm or will new patterns emerge?
In order to explore these questions in greater detail, it’s important to review what we know thus far. The COVID-19 working from home experience is continuing to reveal important insights. And these insights should be used to determine how remote work hours should be structured. Likewise, this evidence can also help guide decisions about the type of work week employers should consider or allow. Rather than relying on gut instincts and intuition, logic and facts should lead the way. From this perspective, an argument for a five-day work week can clearly be made.
“On any given day, the average employee spends nearly 65% of their time on busy work and in meetings, 20% searching for information and just 15% — or 1.2 hours a day — on the meaningful and rewarding work they were hired to do.” – Tim Minahan, Executive VP of Business Strategy at Citrix
Productivity and Remote Work Hours
As huge segments of the workforce have been forced into remote working hours, something interesting occurred. The vast majority like it. According to surveys, roughly 87 percent would like to continue working from home in some capacity. Many reasons were given for these preferences. Increased flexibility, better ability to focus, and fewer distractions were some benefits described. But avoiding the daily commute was the most common advantage most noted. Rather than being stuck in traffic, they used this time to get more sleep, be with their families, and exercise. And they used it to increase their remote work hours as well.
Numerous studies and surveys now report that more days at home during the work week result in higher productivity. Several reasons exist for this. Better sleep, better family relationships, and regular exercise can certainly boost productivity. But a home office free from noise, distractions and frequent interruptions do as well. All of these effects can result in higher levels of employee satisfaction, which will also improve results. For these reasons, many employers are strongly considering increasing the number of days their employees can work from home.
“[Part-time remote work hours] creates a shift, where office time is for collaborative work, for innovative work, for having those meetings, and home time is for focused work.” said Stefanie Tignor, Director of Data and Analytics at Humu
What About Work Week Hours?
From a traditional perspective, the ideal employee has been one that is totally focused on their work. He or she creates a boundary between work and other life responsibilities. In doing so, work week hours are dedicated to work and not affected by other influences. However, the massive working from home experiment with COVID-19 has changed this perspective. Not only are employees avoiding the nearly one-hour commute that most Americans average. But they are also being able to handle minor home tasks throughout their day without losing work productivity. This goes against the grain of traditional thinking.
According to studies, someone with remote work hours puts in more time than the traditional in-office worker. In fact, over the course of a year, employers gain three additional work weeks from employees who work from home. This is consistent with other data showing 55 percent of those with remote work hours put in longer hours weekly. Thus, even without requiring it, the vast majority of remote workers rewarded employers through this new arrangement. The coronavirus pandemic has thus encouraged some businesses to reconsider the ideal work week situation.
“One of the biggest holdbacks of remote work is trust — managers simply don’t trust their people to work untethered. They’re used to managing by counting butts in seats rather than by results.” – Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics
Creativity and Remote Work Hours
While productivity and work week hours look to be favorable with remote work, the jury is out on creativity. For some, the ability to have better focus and fewer distractions enhances their creative side. For others, however, the absence of social connections and office collaboration hinders these skills. It’s well known that diversity is a core driver of innovation and creativity. And therefore, too many remote work hours could undermine these competitive advantages for a company.
In addition to these effects, employers may negatively affect creativity through remote work systems. For example, some employers insist in tracking employee hours and activity while at home using various software. Software products like ActiveTrak, Hivedesk, Teramind, Time Doctor and WorkExaminer offer these abilities. In essence, they monitor keystrokes, emails, file transfers and application use throughout the day. But these programs can create an environment of oversight and mistrust. This too could undermine creativity in some workplaces. While such measures are completely appropriate, employers must also be aware of their negative potential.
Defining the Ideal Work Week Post-COVID-19
Given the information to date, not only are some employees wanting less time in the office. They are also wishing to work fewer days out of the work week. At first glance, this may seem reasonable. But the advantages remote work hours have shown relate to daily effects, not weekly ones. Productivity during regular business days increase because the entire business staff is available. The same productivity benefits aren’t likely to persist when some staff are out or offices reduce their work weeks. Likewise, this even further limits the time for collaboration and social connections. And it naturally reduces the exposure a business will have to its potential clients. These are notable things to consider when contemplating a change to a shorter work week.
The data clearly supports that remote works hours can be beneficial in a variety of ways. But going to a full-time staff working from home all the time may not be the best recipe. Instead, business will be best served by constructing some time in the office and some remote work hours. Likewise, productivity as well as creativity will be better served by continuing to invest in a five-day work week. Nothing to date suggests anything less would result in a favorable outcome.