Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Nights and weekends: Remote work may mean longer hours, lost liberty

A new survey suggests remote work tradeoffs may currently be giving employees short shrift.

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The way people work is changing rapidly, and remote work has proven popular with employees and many employers during the pandemic. Now the grand remote work experiment of 2020-21 is yielding some early indications of how productivity and work habits have fared during this protracted accidental experiment. Employees and employers alike may have some adjustments to make.

By some measurements, the work-from-home dream has actually favored employers, who are getting more time and productivity out of their remote employees compared to the old on-site norm. That's according to a new report from the Prodoscore Research Council (PRC), an initiative created by employee visibility and productivity intelligence software leader Prodoscore, which provides visibility into employee activities through a single productivity score called a "prodoscore." 

The company recently conducted a survey evaluating 900,000 data points from nearly 7,000 employees. The top line results are that in 2020 productivity increased year-over-year from 2019. 

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"The analysis we did of Prodoscore users unequivocally shows the importance of having access to data-driven productivity intelligence," says Adrian Reece, PRC Principal Statistical Consultant and Doctoral Student. "Understanding how employees spend their day, when they are the most productive and with which tools, can help employers create a work environment that benefits everyone. Working from home/working from anywhere (WFH/WFA) emphasizes that daily routines are shifting; management needs to look at when and where their employees are the most productive."  

Among the takeaways, employees may actually be working more during the pandemic. According to the report, the average start time between January 2020 and January 2021 drifted from 8:24 a.m. to 7:46 a.m, while the end time moved from 5:31 p.m. to 6:12 p.m. Creeping hours should be a point of interest and potentially concern for employees who are not paid hourly. While the flexibility of work-from-home offers many benefits, compensation may effectively be declining--an ironic outcome given potential savings employers are benefiting from by not keeping up facilities.

PRC's report reveals a business paradigm that could use a rethink. The optimal workday and workweek for all parties may not be what it was. For example, the data from the survey reveal that the busiest time of the workday is from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday is the most productive day, according to the report, followed by Wednesday and Thursday. Employees start their days earlier on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and stop working later, as compared to Mondays and Fridays.

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Interestingly, there is a seasonal component to productivity. During 2020, productivity was at its highest during the first five months of the year but dipped in late spring and summer. Also, don't expect much during Thanksgiving, when the data reveal productivity dips more than 30%.

Other data reveals that daily meetings are way up (26%) between 2019 and 2020. Employees had 4.24 meetings per day in 2020. Zoom fatigue anyone?

"This research and analysis underscores why business leaders need to prepare to embrace flexibility in the workplace," says Crisantos Hajibrahim, Chief Product Evangelist, Prodoscore. "It further demonstrates the imperative for businesses to be able to accurately measure productivity to support the distributed workforce. As we navigate the changes in our work environment, productivity intelligence software becomes even more critical, allowing business leaders to make informed, data-driven decisions to help employees achieve their highest levels of performance."