“Working from home” a mode traditionally viewed with suspicion by bosses and with envy by regular commuters, has become the new norm from this spring. The effects of working from home have been little studied, partly because remote working seem to be previously uncommon - 5.1%.1
In the past working and communicating with the office virtually was dismissed by many employers, in 2013 Marissa Mayer, the then chief executive of Yahoo, banned remote working.
The assumption has been that remote workers slack without direct supervision. But is this actually the case?
In 2014, the large Chinese travel agency Ctrip (know as Trip.com in the UK) with over 16,000 employees, carried out an experiment in conjunction with Stanford University.2 The newly built offices in Shanghai were expensive and they were looking to save costs by asking some of their workforce to work from home. The prediction was that they would save money on rent, but lose some income through a dip in production.
They asked for volunteers from a one of their call centres, of which half of the study group were selected at random to work from home for nine months. The other half would continue to work in the office and the productivity of both teams would be measured. Productivity in the home group went up by 13%. Without the distractions of the office, agents were making more calls and taking fewer breaks and sick days. They executives were truly stunned by the results and calculated not only that they could save millions in rent, but also that they could make $2,000 (then about £1,300) more in profit annually per employee.
Working from home, alone?
This study also measured happiness. When Ctrip polled staff, at least half of the home-based group wanted to go back to the office. They complained about loneliness and isolation.
Please note, they were not in lockdown conditions: only people with a spare room took part; none had children at home or flatmates; and they still worked one day a week in the office. The success of this experiment enabled the company to expand significantly as they were encouraging employees to work from home. Some people choose to work from home, while others decided to go back to the office.
These days experts are worried about the long-term impact that fear and anxiety triggered by the crisis can have on us. Social distancing is the common practice in the coming days to avoid spreading Covid-19, it is a good strategy to avoid infection, however consciously avoiding the company of others is not what people generally are used to.
Still working from home?
We must make changes to our lifestyle, as there is no quick fix.
- Take a break from social media – Bad news stories are consistently dominating the headlines, because sudden disaster is more compelling than slow improvements. Our brain is wired up to react to potential threat to avoid danger, consequently there are no good news stories in News.
- Take care of your body, eat well and sleep well.
- Go out for fresh air, no matter how long or short a period of time.
- Meditation looks after your body and keeps the negative thoughts away; livestream and online classes are available to help from the beginning.
- Switch off! – Work computer. You need to put it away and distance yourself from work as you would have if you were working in the office. Working from home has made the work - life divide hopelessly blurred.
- Set deadlines - work smarter, not harder. By checking work e-mails all day, especially if you only work part-time, can risk you burning out and cause anxiety.
- Emotional wellbeing - connect with others. See your friends and family if you can. Call them or contact them by video calls where possible. Face time and Messenger has so many funny effects and offer true amusement any time. Be kind to yourself and to others, it feels so good to help each other.
- Adopt a kitten – especially if you live alone, it is nice to have company.
To be happy, you need to do things that make you happy!