This week I’ve been forced to work at home for four days as some poor weather hitting the UK (or ‘The Beast from the East’ as it has been dubbed by the media) has meant that commuter train schedules have been decimated.
The weather’s not been that terrible, with just 20cm of snow where I live and temperatures of -2 to -4 degrees centigrade, but the UK and its population are simply not set up for handling this kind of weather.
But it’s not just me affected, as the majority of the office had working from home days, to the point where one daily stand up which consisted of 11 people had just 2 of them in the office, and the rest on video link.
You’d think this was a good thing if you read the research on remote working, where according to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel that they’re more productive than when they’re in an office.
A ConnectSolutions study also found that 77 percent of remote workers get more done in fewer hours thanks to fewer distractions like meetings, conversations, and noisy coworkers.
However, when you look at a study carried out in 2015 by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) suggested that a drop of one degree in the minimum average temperature can cost the UK economy £2.5 billion, thanks to lower output among businesses affected by cold weather plus lost productivity caused by transport delays and people not making it to work.
These days remote working is prevalent in many workplaces. You can join a video conference for free and ‘meet’ someone face to face, and you can go to file systems in the cloud to gain access all your key documents, so why the lack of productivity when the weather turns, when remote working should enable an increase in productivity?
The Association for Psychological Science concluded in their research that the success of remote working is dependent on how the remote working is enabled and the specific needs of the organization, the individual, and the circumstances.
Snow days force those who wouldn’t typically work at home to do just that, and maybe they’re not prepared for it.
It might be the fact that many people don’t have a home office, and have to sit at the kitchen table whilst school aged children, forced to remain at home because schools are closed, are running around, frustrated and cooped up.
It might be that the work really can only get done when people are physically together, and so those big discussions can’t take place over a screen.
Or it might be as simple as the self discipline for those working at home, when their colleagues aren’t around to look over their shoulder. Motivation to get stuck into that document review on a laptop screen might be a bit less, when it would have been easier in the office on the larger screen or with the laser printed copy.
Personally, I’m a productive remote worker, able to self-motivate and can focus on tasks without the input and energy of others. I have a home office that is away from distractions, has natural light, and all my work is on my laptop. But it seems not everyone is so lucky, and the cold weather freezes their ability to remain productive.
As business operators it’s important to understand this and do what you can to support where it’s needed:
- Have your business continuity plans ready
- Make sure your team know what’s expected of them when they’re remote
- Make information and people accessible so no-one is chained to a desk and unproductive away from it