Successful remote work? How to turn the coronavirus crisis into an opportunity
Now that a large part of the labour force is working from home, it's high time to consider the impact on our wellbeing. What are the pros and cons? How do we make remote work successful in the short and long term? Together with Cédric Velghe of The VIGOR Unit, we took a look at the key learnings from science and experience in the field.
Remote work in Belgium: a few figures
The spread of COVID-19 has led to a rapid shift to remote work in Belgium. Before the coronavirus outbreak, 1 out of 5 employees worked from home at least one day per week, but now the ratio has climbed to 1 out of 2. Remote work has become the new normal, especially at large Brussels-based companies. Nevertheless, nearly 50% of employees have indicated that remote work isn't possible with their job.
Advantages of working from home
Scientific research shows that there are many advantages to working from home a limited number of days a week. For both employers and employees. Two days of remote work per week is a good guideline, although the ideal amount of work-from-home time depends on various factors. For example:
- company culture
- the type of work
- individual employee needs and preferences
The positive effects of remote work are generally an increase in wellbeing, greater autonomy and less stress. The combined effects can be a big boost in the productivity of your employees.
Working from home: not just rainbows and unicorns
In spite of the advantages, we need to temper our enthusiasm. A full-time or mostly full-time work-from-home lifestyle isn't for everyone. For example, the lack of interaction isn't conducive to building meaningful relationships with co-workers. And the impact of working from home in isolation over the long term should not be underestimated. François Perl from the INAMI/RIZIV also cautioned against the pitfalls.
"Working from home is only part of the story," commented Cédric Velghe, founder of University of Ghent spinoff The VIGOR Unit. "Most employees also need to collaborate virtually, so that aspect of the research is at least as relevant. Our findings show that there is a negative impact on individual performance in this area. For example, there are more task-related conflicts, and knowledge sharing or joint knowledge development is more difficult.”
“Digital communication is not always smooth sailing either. There is often a lack of regularity and direct feedback. And the lack of context leaves the door open for different interpretations. Response time can also be a source of frustration. Fortunately, video calls can be a good substitute for face-to-face time, even if they can never fully replace in-person communication in the workplace or office", says Velghe.
Work-life balance is another challenge. Research shows that as the boundaries between work and home become blurred, many employees find themselves working late into the evening. This can put strain on personal relationships. Such negative influences can significantly cloud the outlook for work-from-home productivity gains.
Finally, there are, of course, jobs that are difficult or even impossible to do remotely. While these employees obviously cannot experience the downsides of working from home, they are, on the other hand, more likely to feel resentful about the inequality of treatment. In such cases, flexibility can help smooth things over. For example, by putting an end to clock-in clock-out systems, and letting teams divvy up their workplace tasks themselves.
Impact of working from home on wellbeing: a few tips
What does it mean for employee wellbeing, a priority issue for many companies? "The impact of virtual collaboration on wellbeing is still unclear," Velghe highlighted. "In addition, wellbeing is a very broad concept, and certain dimensions have received insufficient attention. By this I mean mood and feelings, physical health, cognitive issues, social perceptions and so on."
Fortunately, there are ways to successfully overcome the disadvantages of working from home. Velghe brought up solutions such as investing in team building and training, and setting objectives at the team level. An engaging vision and specific, challenging (team) goals can significantly boost performance and employee wellbeing.
"Are you familiar with the concept of team reflexivity? It's a deliberate process of reflecting on team goals, processes and strategies. It also involves evaluating each other's work to improve team effectiveness and results. In short, "Are we on the right path?" Participants put their heads together, on a regular and digital basis, and talk about it. This openness is an essential ingredient of successful teams."
How do you go about this in practical terms?
In addition to enhancing wellbeing, the above tips will also improve job satisfaction. Something you simply can't afford to overlook especially in these times. This is why AG Health Partner has come up with a survey to gauge your employees' experience with working from home. What's more, we will manage the entire questionnaire-related flow of communication for you. In just a few minutes, your employees will answer some very targeted questions. What's in it for you? You keep your finger on the pulse for optimal employee wellbeing.
The survey in a nutshell
Assessment of current feelings and satisfaction levels, evaluation of the employer, impact of remote work, vision for the future, etc.
- Option to include company-specific questions, to differentiate between different departments, etc.
- Flow of communication included
- Takes just 6 minutes to complete
- Available in EN/FR/NL