How productive is working from home?

redactie 6-4-2020

Over the past few weeks, almost every person in the Netherlands has been at home. Because of the coronavirus, it has been decided that from now on all work for which it is possible will be done from home. Of course there are many more measures that I will not go into now. Now that everyone is working from home, sometimes it might be the case that the work can be done a lot more or less efficiently than it could have been from the usual working space. Could it be the case that there is a real link between the productivity and working from home, and will this period in which there are more people working from home have an effect on the number of people working from home after this crisis?

I will start off by saying that if there is a link between working from home and the efficiency of work, this will most likely not apply to everyone. It varies from person to job whether the work can be carried out from home at all, and whether this is a better option. Of course, it is difficult for a construction worker to construct a building from home. For the jobs where you could theoretically work from home, you often still need a good internet connection. But that aside, what could be positive effects of working from home?

It could be that someone does a lot more work than usual because there is no more commute. If someone had to travel from Nijmegen to Amsterdam every day by train or car, you have to wake up very early to get to work on time. If you would get up as early in Nijmegen and start working from Nijmegen right away, you will have a lot more time to work. This depends of course on how good your self-discipline is. Furthermore, the difference in productivity may also depend on how your workplace looks at home and at the office. It could just be that you have a separate study at home where you can sit alone in peace, but not everyone will have this luxury. Of course, it's harder to work when your children are playing in the same room.

Speaking of children, what about education? In high schools there are no more physical teaching hours, but the lessons themselves often continue. I know a little more about this subject because a family member of mine is a teacher, and what he said was pretty interesting. In recent years, we have been informed through politics that teachers want smaller classes and higher salaries. Now that the lessons are given on the computer through programs like Zoom or Microsoft Teams it appears that a teacher can often handle far more students than would be possible when teaching at school. The only limit is the internet connection. Also, the lessons themselves are sometimes shorter, so the same subject can be taught in only half the time. If this were to continue after the crisis is over, some of the problems would be solved. One disadvantage is that there are other problems being created by this solution. For instance, how do you do this with subjects like PE? And how do you really make sure students are paying attention?

To conclude, these are special times in which people are increasingly working from home. The question remains whether this is more productive, and the answer is not clear yet. It seems like there are too many variables to explain this easily. It might be an interesting idea for a study, as it certainly would be relevant for firms and governments. Furthermore, it remains to be seen what will happen when the crisis is over. Will many people continue to work from home, now that it is clear that it is possible? I still have my doubts. At a company (hopefully) the only goal is not just to make a profit. Perhaps the managers also care about the interactions between colleagues at the firm, which are more difficult to maintain if you don't see each other every day. And of course I also hope that the university will not only give us web lectures after this crisis, as otherwise things would be very quiet at the ESV-room.

By: Merijn van der Leeuw