Returning to Office Work: Productive or Pitiful?

For many of us, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, office work was all we’d ever known. Many people had never even considered the possibility of remote working, and many organisations did not provide the facilities for their employees to do so. 

Then March 2020 came round, and all our preconceptions about remote working, compared to office working were challenged and made a reality. It was already an uneasy time with concern growing about the virus, then suddenly we were thrown into a world where we had to work from home without the company of our co-workers, but were expected to be just as productive as we had always been. 

Makeshift home offices were set up in bedrooms and back rooms, pretty much anywhere we could find space. Companies scrambled to equip their employees with the technology needed to work remotely, but few of us actually believed it would last as long as it did. For some, remote working simply just didn’t work, but for others, working from home provided them with the flexibility they didn’t know they needed. 

What Are The Current Government Guidelines About Returning to Work?

 

The UK Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. However, they are recommending a gradual and phased return to the office for workers. The furlough scheme has been extended until 30th September 2021.

They have also provided guidance for workers returning to the office and for those who are continuing to work remotely.

Is Working In An Office More Productive Than Working Remotely?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the discussion about whether working from home is as efficient and productive as working from an office has become much more commonplace. It’s impossible to say for sure which style of working leads to a higher productivity rate amongst employees, but certain factors influence productivity when working remotely as opposed to in an office, and vice versa. 

Interest into this area spiked after the COVID-19 pandemic began, with many employees looking to see if they could be as productive in the comfort of their own home, and with employers wanting to find out if they could now stop renting office space for their employees. 

In a previous study, Bloom & Liang (2013) found that over 9 months, call centre employees that were randomly assigned to work at home rather than in the office were 13% more productive than their office-based co-workers. Of this, 9% was attributed to working more minutes per shift, from fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% was from more calls per minute due to a quieter and more convenient working environment.

Whilst this study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic began and so cannot be used to state whether or not throughout the lockdowns employees working remotely were more productive than in the office, some general points can be transferred to this setting. Whilst already in the comfort of their own home, employees may feel less need to take regular breaks from work, as they are already in a comforting setting. 

It is important to consider the negative factors that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to remote working: many people had to balance home schooling with their work life so may not have had a quieter environment than in the office, and an overwhelming feeling of anxiety consumed the nation about how the pandemic would play out. 

The most important thing for an employee to do in these times is to make sure they are being as productive as possible, within the scope of what they can do before becoming burnt out. As such, it would be helpful for teams, no matter their make up of remote employees and office-based employees, to make use of a collaboration tool to ensure all employees are up-to-date with the latest news and tasks.