Is your team more productive working remotely (from home) or working in the office?
When Tesla boss, Elon Musk, recently revealed he expects employees to return to the office for a minimum 40 hours per week (in addition to working remotely) or quit, it kicked up a little dust around the work-from-home debate. Appearing to hold up the work ethic of Chinese factory workers as the standard for productivity, he claimed that the most “exciting, meaningful products manufactured by any company on Earth” is only possible with a hands-on, in-person approach.
The work-from-home (WFH) model affects everyone differently: some people struggle to work alone or away from the office, because they feel isolated and disconnected from the rest of the company, and miss interacting with teammates. Others welcome the opportunity to hunker down and focus, especially on creative work. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home was a novelty for many that resulted in high productivity, but slumped once the reality of extended isolation kicked in.
Some companies actually found productivity increasing during the WFH era of the pandemic. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that an overwhelming number of employers claimed their productivity levels either matched or exceeded pre-pandemic levels. According to Apollo Technical, “working remotely can increase productivity up to 70%.” In fact, the pandemic has revealed that large percentages of the global workforce (with desk jobs) are sufficiently driven and disciplined to work remotely.
In March this year, Twitter expressed their WFH stance clearly, announcing that employees could work from home forever.
Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work – Parag Agrawal, Twitter
For Team Wetu, the work decides what’s most appropriate – work being defined not just in terms of tasks but also collaborations and maintaining company culture. It’s a hybrid compromise with in-person meetings only when the desired outcomes require them.
Weighing the pros
We identified the following remote work or WFH advantages that boost productivity – let us know what else we should add:
- Less time and money spent commuting between home and office.
- Flexibility of working hours spread out over a day to fit individual lifestyles.
- Ability to change work location to coffee shops or the beach, or work while travelling.
- Less sick leave taken.
- More time available for family, relaxation, and work!
Offering a WFH option is a major contributing factor to keeping staff happy and attracting new talent, especially with our industry suffering from a labour shortage and many travel companies having lost staff during the pandemic.
Weighing the cons
What works for one won’t necessarily work for another – the ability to work remotely depends on individuals’ personalities, conditions at home, and tech set-up. The following could negatively impact WFH productivity:
- Cabin fever and lack of personal interaction could affect mental health.
- Lack of visibility of and supervision from team leaders.
- Poor communication.
- Perception that some are working harder than others.
- Minding children while trying to work.
- Lack of suitable work environment, technology and furniture.
The inability to separate home from work life may or may not be a factor given that travel professionals are often on call outside work hours while their clients are travelling.
Job satisfaction is a key contributor: consider the personalities you work with and give them the choice to WFH or work in-office, whatever suits them better.
Trust that your staff is driven to contribute to the company’s success. Trust yourself that you’ve hired the right people. If you doubt their integrity and ambition, then you should probably revisit your hiring process. It’s also important to show gratitude for the people you have, especially if you’re short-staffed.
Anyone can be distracted anywhere. Motivation to get things done as efficiently as possible will follow from clearly-defined outcomes and reasonable deadlines. Avoid micromanaging from a distance and instead provide clear direction. Set priorities, ask for input, measure success as a team, provide feedback, and reward accomplishments.
Use technology to maintain reliable contact, and equip everyone adequately with access to tech support. Microsoft Teams and Slack are good for internal communication, not just to share information but also to bounce ideas off one another or have virtual watercooler chats. By now, everyone is au fait with video-calling software (Zoom, WhatsApp, etc.) – this can support remote training if employees prefer not to attend in-person. But make virtual check-ins compulsory if you find some employees slow to engage.
Schedule in-person ‘face-time’ with supervisors/managers to keep everyone feeling they’re on track. Use these occasions for cross-functional teamwork or information sessions with the broader company, or just to socialise.
Find the balance, keep the balance. Guide your employees through setting up their WFH systems to support good mental health: ensure they have dedicated time for work, downtime for exercise and relaxation, and time to disconnect or seek a change of scenery.
Encourage setting boundaries at home (children need to learn that their parents are working and need peace and quiet during that time) and also with teammates or managers – it’s okay to say NO to extra chores or late video calls.
Productivity balances on processes and tools, trust and ambition. There’s no reason working from home can’t work for your team – it simply requires understanding and mitigation of the various stressors, structure and full engagement from your entire staff.