Have offices become an inadvertent breeding ground for low productivity?

Since lockdown was formally introduced on 24th March, and IT departments across the globe came into their own in mobilising entire operations in the space of a few days to work from home, there has been cross sector evidence that working from home has increased productivity.

There’s been lots written on both sides of the argument about homeworking, but we’re talking about operations which would have never considered working from home previously, now having anecdotal evidence supported by hard data showing backlogs reducing, output increasing and SLAs moving in the right direction.

So what’s happened? 

Was productivity of office-based teams so low before lockdown that trying to work from home, even whilst having the joys of home schooling and trying to log-in from the dining room table, has actually increased productivity?  This flies in the face of the traditional, and mainly logical view, which states that the office environment, with a dedicated working space, no family distractions, like-minded colleagues sitting around you and a physical management presence, is conducive to high levels of productivity.  So are there just too many water coolers and too much office chit chat?  Have offices really become an inadvertent breeding ground for low productivity?


Or maybe, before senior execs start taking decisions to save what is probably substantial sums of money on office space, by encouraging more homeworking, we should scratch under the surface a little more.

Potentially people aren’t taking the same amount of leave, so availability is higher?  Have inbound volumes of work really stayed the same?  Have any other auxiliary tasks or projects been put on hold to focus on the day-to-day?  With shops being closed have there been less distractions?  Has there been a bit of nervousness about needing to keep a job through this period?  Has increased management supervision at all levels, through daily calls about performance, perhaps had an impact?


So I would urge caution before rushing into decisions about homeworking and ensure availability bias (where decisions are made on the immediate information to hand or examples which come to mind) doesn’t lead to some adverse consequences further down the line.  There are clear advantages to homeworking, but some of the unique conditions caused by Covid-19 will not remain once the ‘new normal’ has been fully established.