The experience of working from home has varied dramatically based on many factors, including geography, industry, job type and job level. The quality of people’s home work space, their caregiving responsibilities, their ability to block out distractions, their individual work styles and their perspective in general have all impacted how they’ve felt and performed. People who live and work in urban areas, usually with smaller or even shared living spaces, have had different experiences from people in suburban or rural areas.
Overall, in every country, people who were dissatisfied working from home struggled more than others. Organizations can learn from what researchers have discovered about working from home to improve the work experience moving forward.
The Key Benefits and Challenges of Working From Home
People’s experience working from home is deeply personal and as diverse as individuals themselves. How people perceive the benefits and challenges of working from home varies significantly, yet the data reveals some consistent issues around the world and patterns that emerge in different countries.
Engagement and Productivity: Benefit and Challenge
Engagement and productivity are other key issues, but they are not as straightforward. In seven of the 10 countries studied, engagement is among the top five things that deteriorate while working from home. Productivity rates in the top five as well for every country (with the exception of Mexico which rates it sixth).
Yet, participants also rank their ability to focus and be productive at home in the top five things that have improved (with the exception of Canada, which ranks it sixth). Can both be true? Can employees find working from home both more and less productive?
The divided responses reinforce the notion that working from home is a different experience for everyone and productivity levels are impacted by how people feel. Steelcase researchers found a distinct correlation between people’s satisfaction with their work-from-home situation and their engagement, as well as productivity. Both engagement and productivity drop in all countries when people aren’t satisfied, and it usually declines further when people have to work from home more frequently.
All 10 countries report drops in engagement and productivity when people are dissatisfied with their work-from-home experience. In most cases, engagement and productivity drop more significantly when work-from-home frequency increases.
The level of dissatisfaction with working from home may explain the seemingly contradictory messages that the experience is both better and worse for engagement and productivity. On average, 41% of workers globally are not satisfied with their situation, which means they are more likely to experience drops in both areas.
There are a variety of factors that influence whether people feel productive and satisfied working from home. For example, Steelcase researchers find that, when working from home, common office furnishings, specifically an ergonomic chair, actually help increase productivity — but only 24% of individual contributors in the US have one. This look at the role of furniture and productivity suggests that physical discomfort can be a distraction, taking its toll on people’s ability to focus. The bottom line: it is important people have a place that is distraction-free, where they can focus, regardless of whether they are at home or the office.
Speed of decision-making, clarity around responsibilities, and work-life balance also suffer as people work from home. All of these are interconnected with the issues of engagement and productivity. If employees feel decisions happen more slowly, are unclear about their work, and have to work longer to accomplish the same amount of work or less, the results can be reduced productivity and less commitment to the organization.
Benefits and Challenges of Working From Home by Country
People told us the three things they liked most and what got significantly or moderately worse while working from home.
To view all country data use arrows below.
Drops in Engagement and Productivity for People Dissatisfied Working From Home
When people are dissatisfied with their work-from-home experience and have to do it more often, they report drops in performance.
Five Patterns of Work-From-Home Experiences
To better understand the nuances of how people feel about working from home, Steelcase researchers augmented quantitative data by interviewing people in North America and Europe for deeper insights. They found the experiences people described fell into five patterns of behavior and attitudes.
It’s important to note that it’s possible for people to associate themselves with more than one of the patterns. They are meant to be extreme categories that can help us understand the different experiences people have had and what their expectations may be when they return to the workplace.