With the unprecedented shift to remote working at the start of the nationwide lock-down nearly 6 months ago, many companies, and especially large corporate ones, discovered a surprising benefit to working from home.

Multiple companies reported an increase in productivity that it is believed has paved the way for a “blended” future model for office work, with office premises being used more for collaboration and meetings than for the traditional daily desk routine.

Speaking to Business Insider, RMB CEO James Formby said, “For a professional or knowledge-based business environment like ours we’ve actually seen that people can be highly productive when working from home. If anything, we’ve found that people are working harder and have found this way of working more intense.”

Increased Working Week

This ties in with the results of a recent global study carried out by the Harvard Business School, carried out amongst over 3 million workers around the world, which found that the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes during the pandemic and lock-downs.

Michaela Voller, Chief HR Executive at Dimension Data, said, “Productivity levels improved even though people were faced with enormous levels of stress and uncertainty.”

Despite the added pressures, working from home seems to have made employees happier to a large extent, with many companies citing the positives that their staff had reported, including avoiding traffic, and having more family time.

Companies also saw a marked decline in sick leave, especially in high-density work situations like call centres.

Downsides

Along with the benefits of course, there are always downsides as well, and sometimes they arise from the same source. On the one hand, companies saw productivity and work time increase, but on the other, this effort comes with an increased risk of burnout for staff.

The stress and pressure of the pandemic-driven work from home environment, the difficulty of separating personal and work life, and the perceived need to be “on call” at all times are leading to increased stress and a greater mental health burden.

The increased hours that employers are reporting also means that staff are working on average nearly 4 additional days a month, and increased workloads and an “always on” mentality can lead to lack of engagement, largely driven by the fear of being deemed surplus to requirements during difficult economic times.

The Future of Work

As restrictions ease and more people return to work, there are still considerable challenges to be negotiated. However, if there is one thing that the pandemic has proved, it’s that even in South Africa, where we have traditionally preferred the “full seats” method of staffing, a more flexible, user friendly future awaits. We just have to manage to strike a balance between employee well-being and productivity.