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Productivity may suffer for companies that don’t have an established working from home culture, says UNSW Business School Associate Dean of Research, Professor Frederik Anseel.

Some of the nation’s biggest employers such as Google and Apple have already enacted policies requiring staff to work from home, while others are simply encouraging their employees to work remotely.

“Companies that did not yet have a culture of working from home in place, are suddenly shifting now very quickly,” he said.

“If you do not have the policies in place, the culture in place, the transition is difficult.

For Apple, the workplace culture of secrecy made it difficult for some employees to transition to working from home, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

This report revealed software developers were confused over the work they could perform at home.

Dr Anseel said many companies should have planned for this possibility before the pandemic, as it’s tricky to implement a working from home policy quickly.

In one example, the European Central Bank tested a few days of working remotely, before shifting their 3000-plus employees to home.

“Everybody was required to work from home but then they came back together,” he said.

“This meant they had time left to physically come together and discuss the main problems they immediately saw.

“I think that makes a lot of sense, because you do not know what is going to happen.”

Technical difficulties

The usual first response in preparation for working from home is to plan for expected technical issues.

But Dr Anseel emphasised companies need to understand the problems that are difficult to predict, such as the coordination of tasks, and implement a strategy for them.

From a whole literature set of studies the benefits of working from home are “pretty robust” but only up to a certain amount of time, said Dr Anseel.

If it’s for longer than that, then the negative impacts can overpower the benefits.

“Normally, what you would advise is that you would never work more than two days from home because you’re missing the connections, you’re missing the coordination, you’re missing the communication,” he said.

Although he said productivity depends on how well the employee is supported.

“If you don’t have good organisational skills or work-space, it could be quite a disappointment.”

Future work balance

However, Dr Anseel said this work culture shifting to home, gives a good taste of what is possible in the future.

Subsequently it could push companies to use this option more actively to give more balance and freedom, when they’re working between home and from an office.

frederik anseel

Associate Dean Research, Professor Frederik Anseel

Dr Anseel said companies and managers need to work-in specific objectives, projects, smart targets and make them very explicit.

“You need to prioritise and say, ‘look we live in uncertain times; we need to re-design how we work’. We need to come up with … the main priorities.”

“It’s not business as usual and make that very clear to people, it’s about getting certain results.”

Productivity doesn’t mean checking employees are working their seven or eight hours a day but about reformulating and thinking about the workplace differently for productivity.

“It’s very important for managers in these times is that you communicate very clearly and often with people.”

Dr Anseel said working from home is not an ideal situation for everyone, as people are isolated from the workplace.

“I would advise that managers have a lot of one-on-one conversation with people, where you put first emphasis on personal interaction.”

Many believe working from home means less meetings, but this could mean there will be more shorter meetings or check-ins.

Managers and companies shouldn’t assume that people have a good room to work in, because their partner could be working from home or have children at home.

“I would caution people, do not have assumptions on how things will work, but try to openly talk about those things.”