Satisfaction homeworkers and the lack of a coffee machine
How do the Dutch experience the corona measures in their workplace and working from home? Students from the master course Case Studies at the Department of Management of the Built Environment (MBE) put this question into research in cooperation with HEYDAY - facility management. As part of their course, they interviewed employees of a health insurance company, a chemical company, and a municipality.
Although - contrary to expectations -productivity increased and many home workers said they experienced a better work-life balance, working from home also has a downside. Moreover, the home situation, the style of management and the available ICT support play a major role in the satisfaction of the home worker.
The study shows that organisations experienced the most problems where the transition to working from home was a major change. Within the health insurer, working from home was already facilitated, while this had not yet been set up for the municipality. "When you go from 100% at the office to 100% working at home, the way of working together and the ICT structure often do not immediately fit " explains researcher Jelle Koolwijk (MBE). "Where employees are already accustomed to doing part of their work remotely, the change is less significant. These employees were also more likely to have a good home workplace."
The researchers saw problems increase the more often people had to work in teams on complex, more creative group tasks. "This is probably because creative processes require a more intensive form of cooperation. To do this online is more difficult, as you don't get all the signals easily. If you're naturally a more ‘wait-and-see-type’ acting in the background, you're more likely to not get noticed." Moreover, it turns out that working remotely needs much more consultation to achieve the same result. "A related factor is fading of informal networks. Within existing teams, people seem to be able to maintain contacts reasonably well, but outside immediate colleagues, the relationships seem to diminish. And that is precisely what happens at the coffee machine, that you come up with new ideas sparring with another colleague."
The kitchen table
The home situation can have a great influence on the functioning of employees. "The home situation can be very different," explains Clarine van Oel, associate professor at MBE. "Some people have their own office space at home and can work relatively undisturbed. Others do not have this luxury and are forced to work at the kitchen table, where other people are often present." In addition to the physical workplace, the available ICT resources are of great influence. "Some employees have access to several screens and a fast internet connection at the office. Not everyone has the same resources at home, which reduces their production."
Nevertheless, a notable point of the study: the productivity of many home workers has increased - quite contrary to expectations. "Something that immediately needs a remark," says Clarine van Oel. "Many home workers only count their productive hours, which causes many people to overcompensate. The advantage of working from home is that you can better combine work and private life, but for many home workers it is still a search for a personal rhythm and the right balance.”
Working from home requires a new style of management, with a focus on trust in and self-management by employees. She expects a hybrid set-up of the working environment in the future. "From now on, online working will predominate, but this doesn't mean that you shouldn't set up a quiet working space in the office of the organisation. Some employees need a pleasant environment at the office because they cannot find it at home."
About the research
In September, researchers from the Department of Management of the Built Environment (MBE), Design & Construction Management and HEYDAY joined forces to launch this study. The results of the students' first study provide an valuable picture of the measures taken to create a safe working environment in times of corona and show what challenges organisations face in the coming period. This is particularly interesting now that the lockdown has been extended once again and working from home will remain the norm in the coming period.
Twenty-six employees from three different types of organisations participated in the study. The results were analysed by the students under the supervision of Clarine van Oel and Jelle Koolwijk. Koolwijk: "It was a very instructive course. You work on a relevant social problem, in which you can really include the students to participate. The cooperation with HEYDAY has ensured that we have been able to do research within three different kind of organisations, which makes the research very interesting."
Jolanda Tichelaar, consultant at HEYDAY, supervised the students and put the students in contact with the organisations involved. "The level of the students was very high, the research has given us really interesting insights. I am currently involved in a number of assignments related to this theme, for example designing the homework policy of various organisations. I will take the insights from the study on board. Moreover, what strikes me most is the stratification and differences of both office work and working from home."
A second study is planned for February/March 2021.