Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 2 July 2020

Individuals Work Better From Home, But Teams Suffer, Adobe Research Finds

Home working boosts productivity, but companies need to resolve tech and management issues. It's time to ditch the commute and get more done.

Well before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world of work was becoming more home-based.

A 2019 report by the International Workplace Group found that almost two-thirds of companies worldwide had a flexible workspace policy. Since then, millions of people have found themselves working from home by necessity rather than choice. The early stages of these lockdowns coincided with a survey being carried out by London Research and Adobe into attitudes around remote working. The result is a unique picture of how people feel about working from home, from those who had already embraced the practice to those, crucially, who hadn’t.

One of the key findings was an answer to the perennial question about home working - that people get more done away from the office, rather than less. Just over a third (36%) of the people surveyed said they felt they were working more productively at home, compared to almost a quarter (27%) who said they felt they were less so.

The main reason for this seems to be that people feel they can concentrate better at home. Almost three-quarters (73%) said that the opportunity for more focused and in-depth work was a benefit of home working, and a similar number (71%) said having fewer distractions at home than in the office was an advantage.

It’s worth noting that the people who felt less productive will include many of those struggling with less-than-ideal home-working environments. They’re the ones home-schooling their kids, working in an inconvenient space in a small flat, or struggling with inadequate technology. It seems likely that many of these people would choose not to work from home under more normal circumstances, or would be able to make more helpful arrangements, pushing the numbers even further in favour of greater productivity.

Less commuting, more working

If greater productivity is a key benefit of home working for employers, the most significant one for employees is an improved quality of life.

For a start, almost everyone was delighted to dump their commute. Three-quarters of survey respondents (77%) said that saving the time spent travelling to and from work was a major advantage of home working, while another fifth (18%) said it was a minor one. More than four-fifths (86%) also felt that home working gave them a better work/life balance overall. 

The flip-side of individual employees being more productive at home is that teamwork can suffer. Almost three-quarters of people (71%) said that less communication and sharing of information within their team was a problem. And almost two-thirds (63%) cited the difficulty of keeping track of team progress as a disadvantage.

Around half of the people surveyed also said accessing and managing the documents they needed was a problem. Difficulties in sourcing documents stored in the office was seen as a disadvantage of home working by 46%, while difficulty getting documents signed or stamped was an issue for 48%.

Management issues

People responding to the survey generally felt that their employers were helping them to overcome  some of these issues. Over four-fifths (84%) agreed that their company was organising regular online team meetings, and two-thirds (65%) agreed their bosses were working to make these meetings efficient.

However, people were less enthusiastic about the level of individual management help and attention they were receiving. Three-quarters said the biggest health-related challenge of home working was the lack of human connection, but only half agreed they were getting the necessary emotional support from their employers. And in terms of how they were being managed, only half (54%) felt their employers were assessing their performance on output rather than hours worked, and only a fifth (20%) felt their managers were being clear about the levels of productivity they expected.

Technology gap

The other thing revealed by the sudden need for people to work from home was the wide spectrum of technological preparedness among businesses for such a situation. Three-quarters of respondents said their company was providing the right tools and software for them to work from home, and two-thirds (68%) said they were getting the necessary IT support. But there were also significant minorities struggling with basic technology: inadequate laptops or computers (31%), lack of printers and scanners (59%).

The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to introduce home working with little time to prepare. As a result it exposed the weaknesses in their ability to support the practice, in both technology and management. But with offices likely to be running at less than half-capacity even as the lockdowns ease, companies need to learn the lessons so that they can support large-scale home working for the foreseeable future.

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