Remote working: Employees say these four things will make them more productive

by Owen Hughes in CXO 

Employees are still facing challenges while working from home, but feel that they could be happier and more productive with a little more support from their bosses.

Working from home is still proving trick for some

Tijana Simic/ iStock
It's hardly been a smooth transition to remote working, though as we approach a year since the pandemic forced us from our offices (yes, it's really been that long), most of us have found ways of adapting to our new routines.

That's not to say that we're complacent about the way things are, or that we have everything we need to make working from home an unmitigated success. In fact, it seems that employees' gripes with working from home have remained much the same throughout the pandemic: namely, technology, productivity, and personal wellness.

A survey of more than 1,000 US workers by software company Nintex found that the majority are coping well in remote work environments, yet still faced a number of challenges. At the top of the list were technology, flexibility, time, and mental health resources.

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While more than two-thirds (67%) of employees said they were getting more work done while working from home, 50% said a more flexible work schedule – such as being able to set their own schedules or having more freedom to change their routines –  would help them improve productivity. 

Hardware was also identified as an issue: 44% of respondents said better equipment for their home office – such as laptops, monitors, keyboards and headsets – would help them do their job more effectively, while 37% expressed a desire for software that would allow them to automate repetitive work tasks.

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)

Having more time to recharge was also seen as a potential productivity-booster: 37% of respondents said working fewer hours each week would make them more productive, while 34% said the same of a four-day workweek.

Nintex found that priorities differed by age group. For example, 55% of Gen Zers said the thing that would improve productivity the most was software to help them automate work. For Millennials, better hardware topped the list, with half (50%) expressing a desire for laptops, monitors and other home office equipment.

Gen Xers mainly said a more flexible working schedule was the key to productivity (56%) while the majority of Baby Boomers (42%) said an increase in pay would help them work more efficiently.

Baby boomers also prized money above all else when it came to improving their working lives. When asked for the top thing that would make work better for them in 2021, 54% responded "a raise". Other age groups, meanwhile, all agreed that a company allowance for investing in better equipment would make their work lives better.

Nintex concluded that older generations were more likely to put up with "business as usual" while working remotely in exchange for higher salaries. On the other hand, younger generations see remote work as a way of reimagining work for the better.

"As Boomers approach retirement age, workplaces need to evolve to meet the needs and match the behaviors of younger generations," the report read.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Nintex also found that, despite generally positive experiences with working from home, employees were increasingly eager to return to the office.

More than half (56%) of workers whose companies had announced plans to return to the office said they were "very excited" by the prospect – though 51% said that their work life would improve if they could to work remotely permanently.

"These results are perhaps a microcosmic reflection of our current reality. Social distancing due to the COVID-19 crisis has many people seeking human connection and feeling nostalgic for past routines — as inefficient and time-consuming as they may have been," said Nintex.

"And the fact that all of these variables remain unknown for the near term is likely pulling employees' states of mind in opposite directions. Ultimately, one thing is clear: Employees want permanent flexibility. They're excited to return to the office, but they want to maintain many of the benefits they've enjoyed while working from home."

Mental health and productivity
Nintex's report also looked at the impact of remote work during COVID-19 on employee mental health.

Nearly half (49%) of respondents to the survey said they were feeling more sad or lonely than usual while working remotely, with (56%) saying that external events related to the pandemic had impacted their productivity at work.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team's mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Recent research by software company HubSpot reported similar findings. In a survey of 1,000 full-time remote workers worldwide, 31% reported feeling more burnt out and stressed since the start of the pandemic, while 38% reported that their mental health had negatively impacted their work performance.

HubSpot found that employees were anxious about what the impact of burnout and poor mental health meant for workplace evaluations: 26% agreed with the statement "I worry that my performance will be evaluated without fully taking into account my current situation at home", while 18% strongly agreed.

Nintex's report concluded that providing mental health support and tools to help employee wellbeing could help improve productivity.

"Even though most US workers have the vacation days to spare, they're not taking time off. In addition to encouraging PTO use and providing employees with access to mental health resources and healthcare options, companies should consider establishing well-being days — and treat these days like holidays," it said.

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