Working remotely has become the norm in the past two years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether working remotely or even partially remotely, many workers enjoy their new working environment. While remote work can cause individuals to feel disconnected or more isolated, this new type of job seems to boost productivity.
Researchers at Texas A&M University recently found that remote work during a natural disaster can not only help employees be more productive, but may also help them become more resilient.
Background: A Boost in Productivity
Studies are already showing the benefits remote working has on people’s productivity. According to one survey, 30% of participants who worked fully remote were able to perform more tasks in less time, and 24% did more work in the same amount of time.
There are many reasons why this positive correlation may exist. One is the home office. A study by Forbes found that workers who design and organize their own home office are 32% more productive than those who don’t. Other factors include fewer distractions and fewer interruptions from coworkers. The third reason for an increase in productivity was a lack of stress and time for commuting.
While all of these helped to contribute to a more productive workday, the researchers at Texas A&M wanted to see if these factors still helped in the face of natural disasters.
Analysis: Home Offices and Hurricanes
Originally, the study wasn’t going to include a natural disaster. The researchers found themselves factoring it in when the company, whose 264 employees they were studying, was forced to go fully remote due to Hurricane Harvey. The researchers were then able to study productivity before, during, and after the hurricane. While the overall computer use dropped during the hurricane, the productivity levels of the seven-month remote work period after the hurricane matched the total maximum productivity levels, of those before the hurricane. This result suggested to the researchers an increase in both productivity and resiliency came from working remotely.
According to researcher and director of Texas A&M’s Ergonomics Center, Mark Benden, “Almost all of the study’s employees were right back up to the same level of output as they were doing before Hurricane Harvey. This is a huge message right now for employers because we’re having national debates about whether or not employees should be able to work remotely or in a hybrid schedule.”
Outlook: Could Working Remotely Be more Emergency-Proof?
While the researchers did not look at the impacts that Hurricane Harvey had on the company as a whole, they did hint that working remotely could increase resiliency. This could indicate that working remotely may be beneficial in terms of helping some businesses become “natural disaster-proof” in some cases. For example, if the main office is destroyed in a hurricane or flood, workers may already be comfortable working from home, and can pivot easily to maintain performance and productivity.
While such circumstances may not apply in the case of every natural disaster, it’s good to know that data continues to show that there are many benefits to having employees work from home, representing at least one cultural shift resulting from the coronavirus pandemic that can certainly be seen as positive.
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/