Old working habits no longer apply. Are you a help or a hindrance to your workforce?

The average home working experience supports employees better than the average office experience.

It’s a statistic gleaned from our home working experience database of more than 180,000 employees. In fact, the average home working experience comes close to an outstanding workplace employee experience. Why? Well, there’s myriad reasons for it – not only the fact that our homes support individual, focused work – an activity a majority of employees deem as important in their line of work – thanks to their better acoustic privacy. It even better supports some of the more collaborative types of work better than the average office does – group meetings and even informal, unplanned meetings, for example.

But we should also take into account the fact that work patterns have changed in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic truly hit the globe. Consequently, people have developed coping mechanisms in response. They have adapted their behaviours – and spaces – to enable them to work more effectively. Rather than trying to replicate the office, they have had to adapt to their new surroundings. Different types of work activity now take on far greater significance in the home than they did in the office. But are these work activities supported as well as they can be? Or should be?

To obtain rough comparative data, we have taken all of our global office data gathered in 2019 (235,644 respondents) and our home working data from 2020 (160,579 respondents). While these are different groups of people, it still gives us a great indication of how behaviours have changed.

It comes as little surprise that more employees consider video and audio conferences to be more important in their role; so too do we find that the support for these technologies has increased, largely thanks to business-wide changes in the provision of such software and technology, in addition to the acoustic privacy they are granted in their home. Employees too have found that telephone conversations are better supported at home – although these conversations are deemed as less important, primarily due to the uptake of video calls.

In a year where physical meetings completely disappeared, it’s interesting to note the higher proportion of employees who indicated that learning from others is important in their role in 2020 compared to the year before. Nearly half of 2020 home workers (47%) said it was an important activity, eight percentage points more than the proportion observed amongst the 2019 office workers. But this desire for knowledge sharing is more poorly supported in the home working environment, as shown by the thirteen percentage points difference between the support scores measured in 2019 in the office (79%) and the 2020 home levels (66%).

Similarly, informal social interaction – which was just as important for the 2020 home workers as it was for office workers in 2019 – received considerably lower levels of support at home – a difference of 20 percentage points.

Our data suggests that there is an increased clamour for more informal knowledge transfer between colleagues, but the home working environment currently can’t support it.

It’s not just job roles which have changed – so too have the spaces in which employees work from home.

When they were suddenly required to work from home in 2020, employees may have actively transformed areas in their homes into spaces they could work in. We know how important this is – those with a dedicated work room or office, or a dedicated work area, such as a desk in the living room, have a far better home working experience (H-Lmi 78.7 and 74.4 respectively) than those working from a non-work specific location, such as from their bed (H-Lmi 66.7).

While not everyone can easily adapt their living spaces, we did find a notable change. Amongst the employees who worked from home pre-pandemic (in 2019) and those who did so in 2020, a similar proportion used a dedicated work room or office (42%). But the proportion of people who used dedicated work areas within their home, rather than working from a sofa or dining table was seven percentage points higher in 2020 compared to 2019. The proportion of home workers who used non-work specific home locations was seven percentage points lower in 2020 compared to 2019. These trends suggest that employees may be actively transforming non-work specific areas of their homes into work areas – and they are having a better home working experience as a result.

Home workers have made significant changes to their home work settings; they were doing the work of a head of workplace as individuals – creating an environment for themselves that allowed them to perform better. What are they going to think if they return to their old office, untouched and not adapted to how they work now?

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