Planning the end of remote work? Data suggests some flexibility may be worth preserving

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As more and more workers have become vaccinated and distancing guidelines start to relax, it feels as if work — and life — are starting to return to something resembling normal. As companies begin to bring workers back to the office, they may find that some benefits to remote work are worth preserving.

Analyzing usage data from more than 20 million devices deployed globally, HP TechPulse discovered new insights suggesting that companies and employees alike might be benefitting from the new hybrid workstyle: as workers have learned to accommodate the demands of both work and life from home, they are working more hours and getting more done.

People are working more hours from home, not fewer

In February 2020, just before the lockdowns, the median workday among the 20 million devices we looked at was 10 hours, 4 minutes long. In April 2020, just after the lockdowns began, that number increased to 11 hours, 42 minutes. A year later, in April 2021, as workers have fully adjusted to a “new normal,” the workday has settled around 11 hours, 11 minutes —still about 66 minutes more than before the pandemic.

The boost in work time is driven largely by an increase in after-hours and weekend work. After stay-at-home orders were broadly issued, the median user started work 75 minutes earlier than before the lockdowns began. A year later that start time has relaxed a bit, but the opening bell still rings 48 minutes earlier for remote work.

People are also working later than before. In February 2020, users worked to a median end time of about 6:55 PM. In April 2020, they clocked out about 22 minutes later, and a year later they are still working 18 minutes later than they were before the pandemic.

One likely explanation for this stretching of the workday is the lack of commutes — not only to the office, but to school and extracurricular activities as well. With all of that driving suddenly screeching to a halt, workers are finding more flexibility at both ends of the day. Another likely factor is that workers with school-aged children at home have had to create the flexibility to balance work with keeping an eye on the kids. But even with that extra duty factored in, people still worked more total hours than before, with median weekend hours* nearly double what they were before the pandemic.

While the amount of normal-hours work has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the initial increase in after-hours and weekend work has held steady — meaning that workers’ newfound flexibility has resulted in them working more, not less.

Workers are at least as productive from home as they were in the office

One of the biggest and most talked-about changes in workstyle is the use of real-time collaboration software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The median time spent in applications like these has grown more than two-and-a-half times over pre-pandemic levels.

While it’s not surprising that remote workers are spending a lot more time in online meetings, this may be a change of mode more than a change of behavior — before the pandemic, people spent time in in-person meetings. More interestingly, we find that the amount of time spent using productivity tools (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) has remained steady, even as the use of meeting software has grown.

In fact, when we zoomed in on the 50,000-plus devices deployed across a large employer, we found that the amount of time spent using productivity software increased by about 33 percent over pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that corporate users are actually doing more work remotely than they were doing in the office.

A hybrid approach can preserve the surprising benefits of remote work

The insights drawn from HP TechPulse data show that workers, when given more flexibility, will put in more hours and get more work done. As children return to in-person school, however, working parents will lose some of that flexibility to school and extracurricular related commutes.

Embracing a hybrid work model can maximize the remaining flexibility for workers, protecting the increased engagement enabled by remote work. For example, meetings that require creative collaboration work better in person, while individual work may produce more output if left to individual workstyles.

We’ll explore more insights from HP TechPulse data over the coming months.

Learn more about HP TechPulse-driven insights for your organization by checking out HP Proactive Insights and HP Active Care.

*Weekend data extracted from smaller set of devices.

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