May 4, 2020
How do employees feel about remote working?
Companies have had to review their operating methods in a hurry for several weeks now and have suddenly been forced to start working from home. The French Ministry of Labor's statistics department estimates that this applies to 25% of French employees. To compare, the figure was 3% in 2017 according to the same source. And although May 11th is close, remote working should continue in the coming weeks for the majority or is at least being urged to do so.
After the first 4 weeks of lockdown, we conducted a qualitative remote study as a remote user test using our tool with remote working employees. How do they spend their day? What are the difficulties encountered? Here are the main conclusions of the study.
1. How Are the Days Organized?
Organization as a motto? Not for everyone!
Actually, some people eventually adopt the same pace as in the office and have decided to set up a well-defined schedule in order to structure their day. There are time slots allocated to specific tasks, to distribute professional and personal activities, but also to organize the working time itself, for example times allocated to meetings or exchanges with colleagues, those for emails and those to progress on projects.
"The day is organized as it was before the lockdown. It starts with checking emails and what happened during the night. Then, the first meeting with the team on the projects in progress and independent work."
On the other hand, others prefer to profit from the flexibility offered to them and organize their day at their own pace.
"I liked the idea of personal time management - I don't have to start work at 8:30 AM while keeping the same productive pace."
"I don't have any time constraints, as long as the work is done everything is fine."
What is the impact on work/life balance?
It's no surprise that this is the most difficult thing to deal with. This is especially true for people with children. It's easy to imagine children showing up during a video with a customer, or a few screams in the background, plus the need to manage lessons and homework. An issue that is not always obvious and to which one must adapt:
But it can also apply, in a more trivial way, to couples without children:
"It is difficult to really concentrate on work with your spouse around. Laziness eventually takes over"
At the same time, while it is difficult not to let your personal life interfere with your work, for the majority of people interviewed the opposite is also true. Not letting work interfere with family life is also a challenge: a phone ringing during a break with your children, or the difficulty of putting an end to the day.
"I try not to overload my work time too much in order to be available and spend time with them too"
Because if we think that having more flexibility means working less, this is not the case for everyone, and the days tend to be longer. This is mainly due to the difficulty of taking breaks while staying in the same environment or compensating for lower productivity on regular schedules.
"I usually wrap up my days around 7:30 p.m., whereas when I'm at work, I finish at 5:00 p.m. This is because I have a hard time leaving a file pending when at home."
"So, I have set up a schedule to take breaks in order to take care of my children and help them with their homework for instance. My working day therefore ends later (between 10:30 pm and midnight)"
A necessary adjustment period
When asked what improved during the first 4 weeks of lockdown, organization largely comes first. Once the change phase passed, the adjustment phase began, and the majority managed to find a work pace.
2. Logistics to Set Up
Lack of comfort
Setting up a comfortable workspace at home is not easy and seems to be one of the main difficulties. Although about half of the people interviewed have a dedicated room, the other half use the living room or the bedroom, which adds to the difficulty of combining work and personal life.
Some even have to be creative to find a space for themselves.
"I use my TV stand to work during this time of lockdown. I just take a chair to sit on when I want to work."
For the record, I am personally writing this article from my bedroom dresser ;)
Finally, if the lack of space is what comes first, the consequences on the body and health are also brought up.
"The table is not at the same level as the one at work, so I've had some back pain, I occasionally get up and do some movements to relieve it." "The cramped space is also a concern and the lack of airflow as well."
Lack of facilities
In a less serious matter, depending on their profession, some people also find themselves lacking some of their work tools, such as access to files, difficulty in sending paper documents, or even printing them.
"Several of our activities are not possible to do as is in remote work. We have to either find an alternative solution or postpone them until after the lockdown. We therefore lose efficiency."
Similarly, communication tools were new for some, so it was necessary to learn how to use them and become familiar with them. Here as well, it is above all a matter of adjusting to the new environment.
3. Finally, Remote Work, Approved or Not Approved?
Valuable new habits
Whether for the company, or for handling new tools, an adjustment period is necessary for this new way of working. And new habits take their place, to the satisfaction of the employees.
As mentioned earlier, once you are familiar with online meeting tools, they work well and are appealing to some.
"The positive aspect of this lockdown is the acquisition of the audio/video-conferencing tools that we had before the lockdown but never used, because we only had meetings with people who were physically present."
The advantages that stand out are mainly:
Saving time by eliminating the need to commute. This allows you to have more time for yourself, but also more time to work.
"Remote work means less commuting, which saves a lot of time and allows you to relax."
"No commuting time means less strain on the body and more productivity."
A flexible way to organize your day at your own pace.
The opportunity to spend more time with family, as the opposite is often a cause of frustration and therefore stress.
And the result of these 3 points: a lower level of stress.
"I feel less pressure and less controlled, less stressed."
But there are still gaps to be filled
Despite the advantages of the situation, some aspects remain complicated.
This is especially true when it comes to communication between colleagues. If exchanges for purely professional purposes go well overall and have quickly become quite smooth (especially due to the use of video tools), informal exchanges are often missing and represent a real weakness. This contributes, in a more general way, to the loneliness created by the lockdown, and no longer allows for a pressure relief mechanism, as is the case in an office.
"On the other hand, with remote work, most of the non-work-related discussions no longer take place, as they can during coffee breaks in the office. I kind of miss having those moments where we discuss anything and everything."
"It's more manageable in the office because you're not alone under pressure. Working alone, locked up is hard."
Lastly, other casualties of locked-up remote work are concentration and motivation. Indeed, several people interviewed pointed out that it is more difficult to stay motivated when working alone.
"I don't have those moments of discussion and break that allow me to re-motivate myself, to "re-boost" myself."
This is added to the distractions of daily life, such as family, but also personal activities that are more tempting.
"We have more access to personal things related to our leisure (TV, books, cooking ...) which does not necessarily encourage us to get to work, or at least with more difficulty."
In conclusion, we can ask ourselves if all of this will just be a passing trend or if it will really change the way we work? In any case, we can conclude that the preference for one way of working or another, and the way in which the employee will be productive, is ultimately specific to each individual. Wouldn't giving employees more choice be the solution for better productivity? This view is surely biased since this has always been our way of working at Ferpection :)
*Qualitative study conducted with 17 individuals, men and women, aged 28 to 46, from April 13 to 23.