A Fraunhofer IAO study sheds light on the demands the coronavirus-induced work-from-home experience is placing on our world of work
What did the lockdown situation teach us that can be applied to how we work in the future? The Fraunhofer IAO “Work-from-home experience” web-based survey, conducted as part of the OFFICE 21® joint research project, shows the results of the work-from-home situation and forecasts future changes in the world of work.
In some companies, working from home was firmly embedded in the organizational culture even before the coronavirus pandemic. For other companies, it was completely new. The lockdown and the large-scale implementation of working from home posed a major challenge for all companies, no matter how far along they were in the digital transformation. In their new study “Work-from-home experience – an empirical study from the user perspective during the coronavirus pandemic,” researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO examined these exceptional circumstances and drew important conclusions regarding the design of the future world of work. Going forward, the comparison between the work-from-home and work-at-the-office models will be our constant companion and will thus play a major role in employees’ choice of a particular work location. It is therefore important to reconcile these two models as promisingly as possible so we can benefit from the advantages of both. The study’s findings provide insight into what could serve as starting points to bring about this change.
Working from home is not a sure winner – KPIs change over time
Working from home gives both companies and employees new opportunities for flexibility with respect to time and location. Location flexibility, in particular, fosters creativity and productivity. However, if we look at these success factors over time, we see that in the first four weeks of working from home, sufficient information appeared to be lacking and work performance was lower. As the pandemic wore on, both of these factors initially improved and then steadily declined, so there is room for improvement in maintaining these two work-from-home success factors over the long term.
Shortage of opportunities to focus in the office
In employees’ own assessments, their productivity is about the same regardless of whether they are working from home or in the office. Still, not every work location is equally well suited for every task. “Focused individual work, in particular, is much easier to do when working from home, which points to a shortage of opportunities to focus in the office. So this is one area where concrete action is needed,” says Milena Bockstahler, a researcher at Fraunhofer IAO.
However, additional factors are relevant when it comes to good concentration when working from home. Above all, we see a difference in work performance between people who have family members to care for and those who do not have such responsibilities. People with this additional burden are not only less productive, they are also much more likely to work outside of regular working hours.
What will become the new normal?
The role of the office – which was already in flux before the pandemic – has changed even more as a result of the large-scale implementation of working from home, adding completely new needs to the existing demands placed on offices. At the same time, in the wake of the sudden change in the world of work, new needs were identified that added yet more layers to the demands placed on offices. Only when these demands are satisfied will offices be a suitable alternative to working from home. In other words, the ideal conditions for different tasks must be created both at home and in the office, and the respective advantages of these work models mapped out in greater detail.
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Bockstahler, Milena; Jurecic, Mitja; Rief, Stefan: Working from home experience. An empirical study from the user perspective during the Corona pandemic.Stuttgart: Fraunhofer IAO, 2020.
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