The Comprehensive Guide to Working from Home

August 16, 2020

Driving to work vs working from home illustration

Original research from Recognize into working from home and employee engagement, productivity, and happiness. This article is to help team managers, human resources, and individual contributors navigate WFH.


Author

The research and article was written by Maya Verma, Research Intern.

How often do you get to work from home?

Your alarm clock buzzes…oh no it’s 8:15am! You’re gonna be late for work! Or you are right on time. Coffee at 8:20am and at your desk by 8:30am.

These past few months have had a lot of changes for many people. I’m sure a lot of you who are reading this are working from home due to COVID-19 or maybe you’re reading this in the future and working from home is the new normal. In March, over half of employed Americans transitioned to work from home (https://zapier.com/blog/wfh-report/). According to CNBC, many companies do not expect to have staff return to the offices until September and many have not announced when or if they will be returning at all (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/24/when-major-companies-say-many-employees-will-be-back-in-the-office.html). Research has shown how workers and employers can save money as well as increase productivity and profits from people working at home, so maybe this pandemic has actually pushed some companies in a better direction.

What’s your story? Contact us and share your experience.

What is working from home

: to do one’s job in one’s house and not in an office building

Person on a laptop

Working from home or working remotely has become increasingly popular, and now we are living in a world where gathering people in person would be detrimental to public health. As of 2018, about 5 million Americans worked from home half-time or more (https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics). The pandemic has shown that many companies have the technology and communication tools to make work from home effective. Why commute an hour in traffic when you could just walk over to your home office and be just as or even more productive as in the office? However, in April only 7% of all employers in the U.S. offered work from home flexibility (https://www.fundera.com/resources/working-from-home-statistics#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20regular%20telecommuting,offer%20work%20from%20home%20flexibility.).

COVID-19 has pushed us into the future

Getting delivery

74% of people are working from home due to Coronavirus

With the pandemic, many companies have temporarily transitioned to have their employees work remotely. We decided to conduct a survey to study the experiences of people currently working from home, and 74% of the respondents said they were working from home due to COVID-19. Only 26% had been remote workers prior to the pandemic. According to Forbes, about half of American workers are currently doing their work from home, which is double what it was in 2017-2018. A study by Upwork estimates that by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers (https://www.upwork.com/press/2019/03/05/third-annual-future-workforce-report/#:~:text=Younger%20gen%20managers%20are%2028,teams%20will%20have%20remote%20workers.).

26% report not working from home. 74% do.

Working from home and fighting climate change

As the illustration above depicts, cars in the USA contribute ⅕ of the carbon emissions (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/car-emissions-global-warming). Working from home causes people to drive less, which is a good thing. Not great for the economy, but when people drive less, the buy newer cars less frequently, hurting the auto industry while helping the environment. As  with most things, working from home and climate change is not black and white (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200218-why-working-from-home-might-be-less-sustainable).

Working from home and productivity

72.5% of respondents from our survey said they are more productive at home than in the office.

72.5% of people say they are more productive at home

If this is true, why force employees to commute to an office where they feel less comfortable and less productive?  Research shows that remote workers work 1.4 more days per month than office workers (https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html). Therefore, the worry that employees will slack off and work less does not seem to be an issue.

A Chinese travel agency conducted a study to test who was more productive: office workers or remote workers? They assigned a random group of their employees to work from home for nine months.The results showed a significant increase in productivity among their remote employees.  They estimated to have saved about $1,900 on furniture and space per at-home worker for the nine months of the experiment. Also, their productivity increased by 13 percent and generated about $2,000 in annual profits per remote employee (https://hbr.org/2014/01/to-raise-productivity-let-more-employees-work-from-home).

There are many different variables that can affect an employee’s productivity at home. Here’s what we found from our survey about what may increase productivity at home:

  • Self-motivation
  • Clear responsibilities
  • Effective employee recognition programs

Self-motivation and productivity at home

According to our survey results, we found an association between how self-motivated someone is and their productivity level at home. The more self-motivated people tended to be more productive. Obviously at home there is less direct supervision of employees, therefore you have more responsibility for motivating yourself than in the office.

The more self motivated someone is the more productive they are at home

Statistically significant results

A graph showing an upward correlation between motivation and wfh productivity

Clear responsibilities

Respondents who reported they had clear responsibilities also reported higher productivity levels at home. It is important that employers and supervisors communicate their expectations clearly to ensure employees are working efficiently at home. Workers without clear instructions may find themselves doing unnecessary work or wasting too much time trying to figure out what employers want them to do, because not enough detail was given to them.

The more clear the responsibilities, the more productive the employee at home

Statistically significant results

A graph showing upward trend when responsibilities are clear and wfh productivity

Employee recognition

We found that employee recognition plays a part in how productive an employee may be. There was a relationship between how effective an employee recognition program is and how productive an employee is at home. Therefore, it would be smart for employers to invest in establishing a formal employee recognition program at their organization. Using an online program like Recognize promotes company culture and incentivizes employees to work their hardest.

Effective Employee recognition program leads to higher productivity at home

Statistically significant results

Upward trend of working from home and employee recognition

We expected the number of people/animals in the home, (e.g. number of children or pets) to be associated with less productivity. However, participants’ reports did not indicate a significant impact on productivity. It is difficult to know the accuracy of their own self-reporting, because we found the number of people you are living with and the number of children and pets you have may increase how often a worker gets distracted. Another perspective is that even though WFH employees are distracted, people tend to work more hours when they are at home, so they make up the time they lose from distractions.

Benefits of working from home

Illustration of woman on laptop coding

“Telecommuting is a management tool just like any other. It’s time for organizations to move beyond seeing it as a family-friendly work arrangement. When done well, remote work has the potential to improve performance, increase employee satisfaction and benefit a business.” 

Ravi S. Gajendran

Top nine reasons people love working from home

  • Workers save about $4,000 a year by working from home due to costs of commuting, coffee, lunch and professional attire
  • More time to spend with family
  • Companies can hire broad range of talent
  • Workers not limited to opportunities in a certain mile radius
  • Less commuting is better for the environment
  • Flexible working hours
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Employers save on office furniture and space
  • Higher productivity = higher profits

38.8% of people who work from home say flexible hours is their favorite thing

The benefits of working from home is what makes it so appealing to employees. They can enjoy greater flexibility with their schedule and save time on commuting. 1 in 4 respondents of a study said they have quit a job due to commute time (https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html).  Employees are also being more productive at home, so this is a clear incentive for employers to offer work from home. 72.5% of our respondents said they are more productive at home. Two-thirds of managers report that employees who work from home increase their overall productivity (https://www.fundera.com/resources/working-from-home-statistics#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20regular%20telecommuting,offer%20work%20from%20home%20flexibility.). Therefore, working a standard 9-to-5 day in the office may become a thing of the past.

Photograph of traffic at night

Top: March 10, 2020 Bottom: Nov. 1, 2017 taken around 7 P.M. from the same location shows a difference in the amount of traffic on Interstate 880 in Milpitas. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) image from Mercury News https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/03/10/before-and-after-coronavirus-traffic-nearly-disappears-for-commuters/

Challenges of working from home

Of course, there are drawbacks to working from home. Also, there may be individual differences for how productive and satisfied employees are with working from home.

Here’s some insights from our survey about what people say is most difficult about working from home:

  • Harder to motivate yourself
  • Less socialization with coworkers
  • Harder to communicate with coworkers
  • Harder to maintain work-life balance

25% say it is hard to motivate yourself at home

Although working from home can be a tough transition for some people, there are many tips and tools that can help boost your productivity at home.

 

Tips to improve productivity when working from home

Multi arm work from home employee balancing all of life illustration

Tip 1: Encourage setting specific work hours

Our research showed that the #1 strategy to be productive is to set specific work hours. 60.8% of our respondents chose this as a strategy they use to be productive. Keeping a schedule similar to the hours you would’ve worked in the office is important to establish structure and stay focused. Also, employers should set specific work hours for their employees, so that employees are available to communicate with their supervisors and colleagues.

Tip 2: Create an employee recognition program for your company

Our survey results indicated that having an effective employee recognition program is associated with higher employee productivity as well as more days an employee works their hardest. Therefore, it is important that companies implement a formal employee recognition program to increase the productivity of their workers.

Tip 3: Online communication and productivity tools

Utilize communication tools such as:

  • Slack – It allows teams and individuals to communicate and collaborate easily with chat, video calling, file sharing, etc.
  • Geekbot – Virtual stands ups with your Team.
  • Zoom – It is an extremely effective and popular tool for video meetings and presentations with features such as chat, screen sharing, and video recording.
  • 15Five – Gather information on your emails on their attitudes and feelings in the company.
  • Nozbe Teams – Collaborate with your remote team to get things done.

Tip 4: Managing time effectively

There are many tools to help manage your time and your tasks, such as Trello, Google Tasks, and Focus, a time management app.

Toggl – With the click of a button it allows you to track your time on a project, it reminds you to take breaks with the pomodoro timer and allows you to see what you spend most of your time doing in order to help you plan your time for future projects

Quotes from workers on how to use time effectively and be productive

We asked our survey respondents what their #1 tip for being productive at home was and here is what they said:

“Prioritize. Sometimes we can’t have a productive day because we just don’t know where to start.”

“Creating a to do list every night for the next day helps me the most.”

“Try to keep distractions to a minimum by working in a dedicated space, or a space where it’s easy to focus. And that means a space where you won’t be interrupted by others, be it family members, pets, or even personal phone calls or texts.”

“My #1 tip is to avoid getting on social media if you want to be productive.”

How to effectively manage remote workers

Not everyone is suited to working from home, so it is important you find the right type of person who will thrive working from home.

Candidates who work well at home

  • Self-motivated – Indeed has a work motivation questionnaire you can require applicants to complete to measure how self-motivated they are.
  • Outgoing in communication – Pay attention to how applicants communicate with you over email, phone calls, video interviews, etc. You want someone who can effectively communicate over numerous remote forms of communication.
  • Has a quiet space to work – Make sure applicants have a place where they can comfortably work remotely with minimal distractions.

Utilize online tools to increase and track the productivity of your remote workers.

Time Doctor – an employee time tracking software that tracks how long employees spend on different tasks with tools such as reminders, screen activity recording, invoicing, etc.

Harvest – a program where you can track time and expenses, measure progress on projects, and create invoices and schedules

Trello – an online corkboard that allows you to organize tasks, projects, shared files, etc.

Asana – a program that helps with project management by allowing users to add tasks, assign them to team members, assign due dates, etc.

Implement an effective employee recognition program

Ideally, companies focus on what they do best while outsourcing tools and programs they need. That’s why adding an off the shelf solution, such as Recognize (https://recognizeapp.com) helps start a program in less than a month.

 

Disaster recovery and security

“Disaster recovery is the process by which you resume business after a disruptive event.”

Working from home helps prevent the occurrence of natural disasters affecting work due to workers not all being in the same physical location. However, cybersecurity becomes more important as work is conducted on different home routers.

Here is what the Federal Trade Commission advises in order to make working from home secure:

  • Keep your security software up to date
  • Use long and unique passwords on all your devices and apps (at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters)
  • Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3) on your home router- this scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it
  • Make sure your laptop is password-protected and never leave it unattended in public
  • Store physical files in a locked file cabinet or locked room
  • Shred sensitive data when it needs to be disposed of

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/online-security-tips-working-home

 

Working from home isn’t slowing down

Apartment buildings

Even after it is safe to conduct business as usual after the pandemic, many CEOs plan on keeping a significant number of staff working remotely. Mark Zuckerberg announced that he expects to have about half of his workforce working from home in 5-10 years at Facebook (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/video/2020/may/22/mark-zuckerberg-says-half-of-facebooks-staff-to-work-from-home-within-10-years-video#:~:text=Facebook%20CEO%20Mark%20Zuckerberg%20says,when%20workers%20return%20in%20July.).

There is no clear end in sight of when people will be able to safely return back to the office, and even when they can, there will most likely be less people in the office at a time. Many workers actually have enjoyed working from home and want to continue to do so even after they are able to return to the office. According to CNBC, nearly 43% of full-time American employees said this, and nearly 20% said their employer is discussing making remote work available in the future (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/04/why-many-employees-are-hoping-to-work-from-home-even-after-the-pandemic-is-over.html).

Original Recognize 2020 Work From Home Research

Recognize, Inc. conducted a survey of 276 people through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in order to gather information about employees currently working from home. The research in this article was largely supported by this effort.

50.9% male and 49.1% female in the study

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