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Managing human resources through the pandemic

Working from Home 2020

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Kinnarps, Kozmiński University, Polski Instytut Środowiska Pracy (the Polish institute of the working environment) and Pro Progressio, published a report on a collective survey on home office conditions and challenges while practising social distancing during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, from March to June 2020.

The survey Working From Home 2020 aimed at examining the scale and variety of the challenges which employers and employees had to face during the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Issues faced during the first weeks of home office are presented in the report, displaying the full spectrum of problems faced: technical, personal, housing, managerial and organisational. Due to the deeper perspective on challenges related to remote working, the report may be considered a valuable voice in the current discussion on registering this type of work in Poland’s labour code.

The institutions applied a mixed-methods research approach. An internet survey of 360 people was a source of noteworthy quantitative data. However, it was the answers of respondents, collected by the Kozmiński University’s Department of Management’s researchers through direct interviews, that were shown to be the report’s greatest value. On their basis, the researchers identified three types of working from home experience and styles.

Dr Karolina Dudek, president of Polski Instytut Środowiska Pracy says: When we read the statistics, it’s difficult to understand the experiences of particular people, and hence, to better present the variety of experiences and activities during lockdown, we created three models of participants formed on the basis of the interviews carried out in the qualitative part of the research. They represent three groups of our respondents: the neutrals, the opposers and the approvers. Interestingly enough, all of the groups are almost the same size – around 30% of the total each. On that account, when planning the returns to the office and arranging a further working environment strategy, it is important to remember that not all employees will be happy with one solution.”

Conclusions drawn from the early stage of social distancing are diverse. The report presents a full spectrum of experiences and conditions. Knowledge workers not only had to face the usual complexity of tasks, but their work was also influenced by the family and housing situation and other conditions, including stress resistance and the lack of social interactions. In other words, the shift of work style meant a substantial and wide-ranging change of their lifestyle.

“For us experts, who create various kinds of social space on a daily basis, the most interesting are the consequences of the present change, especially the ones regarding new offices’ interiors. I believe we won’t be able to understand those adjustments without examining the current situation first. What must be done to transform remote working from being only an occasional solution to a new norm? There is also a separate category of issues concerning obstacles, from equipping their home workstations to organising their time, which employees have to overcome in their own apartments”, observes Karina Kreja, international concept manager & workplace expert, Kinnarps.

At the beginning of working from home, when requested to evaluate their productivity, the respondents gave various answers. Exactly one-third of them said they were more effective at home than at work, one-third said the exact opposite and one-third did not see any difference in their productivity levels.

Technology proved to be really helpful in working from home, even though its rapid rise in popularity came under unusual circumstances. Only 2.5% of respondents admitted to having difficulties related to technology.

As for ergonomics and home office conditions, 69% of respondents did not have an ergonomic chair and 25% of them did not own a table or a desk. Many interviewees realised that they missed their comfortable and ergonomic office environment.

“When we speak of popularising remote working, we fail to reflect on other aspects of our lives, including our living conditions. The first phase of transferring work from office to home may be considered a success, but mostly in regard to technology. As our surveys showed, company laptops were often placed on top of kitchen counters or ironing boards. For this reason, I do not share an excessive optimism or all-for opinion on the effectiveness of home office being a permanent solution and a target. Many people worked in less than comfortable conditions, because they did not have a choice, thinking it was only temporary. Now, the time has come to examine the realistic conditions people can work in for a longer period of time”, says Ms Kreja.

For a substantial group of interviewees, personal circumstances, including the need to combine work and childcare, were a great difficulty. Lockdown tested the ability to study and work from home at the same time. More than half of our respondents reported that their working hours increased – a result of a disrupted work and childcare balance.

One quarter of all respondents found it challenging to adapt their workplace culture to the new situation. They especially admitted to difficulties with managing and working in a dispersed team, stating that remote communicating proved to be demanding because of the differences in the time and place of work.

Remote business communicating was found to be fairly easy. Various solutions were commonly accepted in view of the pandemic and because everyone’s situation was quite similar. Some respondents mentioned difficulties with maintaining privacy, and reported that they had to put more effort into looking professional in an at-home environment. That wasn’t their concern at the office.

One third of the respondents admitted to a disruption in their work-life balance. They pointed to three arguments – an increase in working hours, blurred boundaries between work and home, and an inability to be present in other areas of life.

“Working in a virtual environment requires systematising organisational processes and establishing new rules of communication. At the beginning, many companies assumed that emails, mobile phones and communicators would be enough. Further experience proved them wrong. A company must quickly determine what particular communication tools are good for, how quickly the employees have to respond to various information, and how to store knowledge. Otherwise, chaos and conflicts emerge, because co-workers may have different expectations with regard to the urgency of particular tasks”, claims Dr Kaja Prystupa-Rządca, an expert on virtual environment management, Kozminski University.

The issues of the first weeks of home office presented in the report Working From Home 2020 display a full spectrum of problems: technical, personal, housing, managerial and organisational difficulties. Due to a deeper perspective on challenges related to remote working, the report may be considered a valuable voice in the current discussion on registering this type of work in Poland’s labour code. It may also help institutions adjust to the changing reality. The researchers plan to carry out a second phase of the research, aiming at examining experiences of the employees with regard to the impact of the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Due to Covid-19, we are observing changes in the working environment, and it doesn’t only concern disinfectants, social distancing and limiting the number of workers in an office. The real change is happening on a much deeper level. In this report, we managed to depict its beginning; the first home office experiences in all their complexity and dimensions. We need to understand the change related to working from home, its challenges, costs and limitations. Only then, the working environment may be further mindfully transformed”, says Dr Karolina Dudek, president of Polski Instytut Środowiska Pracy.

The report is available in Polish and can be downloaded from:

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