A new study by researchers at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich, and Phone Free Day has uncovered how enforced working from home (EWFH), as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, can improve productivity, but only when it's managed and communicated well.
The researchers interviewed 29 knowledge workers from New Zealand, Australia, UK, US, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland, and uncovered what they saw as a near-balance view about the positive and negative impact technology has had on teamwork, particularly around knowledge-sharing, virtual meetings, and networking.
Lead author Lena Waizenegger said the study revealed how employees and organisations adapted quickly to remote working.
"We were amazed by the innovation capabilities and creativity of teams and businesses," she said. "EWFH showed that remote or flexible working is not only feasible, it also has various positive effects that should be maintained even after the pandemic."
Read more: Employees remain mixed on working from home (and going back to an office) (TechRepublic)
According to the study, people working remotely used team collaboration technologies to enhance the way they work, as well as to maintain or foster relationships with their colleagues.
At the same time, participants also noted that without easy access to a shared physical space, they have had to schedule interactions with colleagues rather than take an ad-hoc approach as they typically would have if they were in the office.
As a result, participants said this decreased the level of interruptions, but also impacted knowledge sharing and discussions with colleagues. This was particularly felt among more junior employees, who have not been able to gauge whether a colleague was busy or available to provide advice, the research found.
Participants also reported that frequently scheduled virtual team meetings posed a challenge for those who had to juggle work-life commitments, finding there was a lack of boundaries between the two.
However, the study also revealed for those who frequently worked remotely pre-COVID, when their colleagues began working remotely they felt more included because everyone was using the same technology channels to communicate.
"This shared approach helped 'flatten' traditional perceptions of hierarchy among employees and enabled workers to meet colleagues they would not previously have connected with," the study stated.
UEA's Brad McKenna believes working from home has shown the possibilities of taking a hybrid approach to work.
"Employers were forced to simultaneously test and embrace a high-trust culture. Overall, employees proved that they can be trusted in this kind of environment, so that will influence how we work now and in the future," he said.
The study has been published in an article, An Affordance Perspective of Team Collaboration and Enforced Working from Home During COVID-19, in the European Journal of Information systems.
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