Smartworking: a success beyond expectations with some open questions about the future
3 December 2020 | Written by La redazione
The data illustrated by Bruno Lepri during the webinar organized by FBK Academy are the result of a study conducted by Harvard Business School, Austin Business School and Humanyze company
What happened during this pandemic when offices closed to an extent never experienced before? What was the particular impact of working from home on productivity during last spring’s lockdown? The webinar held by Bruno Lepri, head of the ICT-MobS Unit of the Bruno Kessler Foundation, as part of the “WORK SMART. Best practices and tools to drive change together ”organized by FBK Academy this fall.
“The pre-pandemic studies”, Lepri specifies, “had almost always shown that working from home – I prefer to call it that because it is not really smart working in this case – caused performance to decrease and the same forecast had been made from many leaders in the workplace, who generally expected a decline in performance ”.
And instead the surprise. “Work from home,” said Lepri, “has shown excellent performance, so much so that large companies like Twitter have declared that they want their employees to continue in this way forever, even beyond the emergency of the pandemic, and a study by Manpower says that in general 8 out of 10 workers would agree to continue like this ”.
More work, less stress. Obviously, for those activities for which it is possible to do it, those who worked from home proved to be more productive and have improved the level of efficiency, attention and concentration compared to when working on site. Not only that, compared to working in the office, the levels of stress, negative emotions and conflicts related to the workplace have been reduced. The data presented during the webinar is the result of a study conducted by Harvard Business School, Austin Business School and Humanyze company, published in the Harvard Business Review. One of the authors of the study is Ben Waber with whom Bruno Lepri had worked at the MIT Media Lab in the USA. The analysis was conducted on 680 workers. “The results”, Lepri underlines, “concern the period from March to May because they are the ones published so far. But the study is still continuing and with this trend. ”
Among the positive aspects also emerged the possibility of avoiding unnecessary business trips, shorter and more focused meetings, more flexibility to manage the family and above all the total elimination of the time taken to go to and from work.
The reasons why the situation has evolved compared to the past seem to be mainly two. First of all, the previous studies were rather dated and in the meantime there has been a great evolution of the technologies that allow you to work and communicate remotely. And then the big news relating to this period is that, due to the lockdown, the situation affected all those who could work remotely, no one in the different work groups felt excluded and everyone felt part of a team.
For remote work, therefore, not only the reduction of the risk of contagion, the reduction of traffic, pollution and related risks, and a better work-life balance, but also better work performance and team spirit. An all-round idyll? Not really because there are different facets and questions about future developments.
First of all, work from home was not the same for everyone. Stress was handled better by people in couples than by those who live single and by those without children than by those who have children to care for (in the latter case with situations that varied depending on whether the schools were open or not). Within all categories, the greater ability to adapt was demonstrated by the people most able to maintain positive and empathic relationships with others.
A little for everyone, the difficulty emerged in disconnecting from working moments to move to private life. The data says that working from home extended working time by 10-20% on average.
As for companies, the most effective were those that found a good balance between time spent on online meetings and the time left for workers to pursue their goals.
“Among the negative aspects” said Lepri “is the loss of informal and unplanned face-to-face interactions. Furthermore, we communicate more and more with close collaborators and the opportunities for communicating with other teams are decreasing, as can happen in the workplace when we meet casually and chat. This leads to less collaboration and less creativity at work, according to a study by Stanford and Columbia University. There is also the difficulty in welcoming new colleagues who arrive while working remotely and in building or maintaining the so-called weak links capable of allowing knowledge flows between parts of the organization that would not be formally connected. It is also more difficult to build long-term relationships or real friendship. It is very important that internal communication is strengthened when working remotely in companies “.
Among the questions, the one about what the future holds. “My impression”, Lepri replies, “is that in the long run you could lose your creativity. However, this is currently an opinion based on some analyzes that are being conducted and studies on the subject have yet to be completed “.