Canadian workers boost productivity working at home while European colleagues lag behind

Software-as-a-service monitoring company tracks how much time employees spend using Outlook, Excel, and Salesforce.

Saying "yes" to no-meeting days increases productivity
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Productivity is up in Canada, slightly down in the US, and significantly down in Europe, according to a new analysis of work at home activity.

From Feb. 24 through March 26, workers in North America slightly increased their overall productivity by 23% while in Europe overall productivity declined by 8.2%.

Canada drove this increase with a 25% increase in productivity overall and a 170% increase in remote work, despite a 72% drop in office-based work hours. The US saw a similar drop in in-office work and a 125% increase in remote work, which represents a 7.2% drop in productivity.

SEE: How to work from home: IT pro's guidebook to telecommuting and remote work (TechRepublic Premium)

Overall productivity has declined in Europe, driven by sharp drops in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Germany.

Aternity's COVID-19 Remote Work Productivity Tracker measures overall productivity in hours of work computing time. The aggregated data comes from millions of employee devices in more than 500 Fortune 2000 companies that use Aternity's SaaS solution. The reports are generated via Aternity's analytics and custom reports.  

Mark Robinson, senior director of global strategic accounts at Aternity and author of the report, said that the country-specific Aternity benchmarks reflect differing geographic, political, and social forces as well as varying work patterns across Europe. 

"Some of these differences are changing over time so the benchmarks will almost certainly show a different pattern between countries in the coming weeks," he said. 

This decline was partially offset by large increases in productivity in Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden.
The virus has spread across Europe from the south, so countries like Italy and Spain introduced a lockdown a few weeks ahead of northern countries, he said.

SEE: Telecommuting policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Also, each country's government has made its own decisions in dealing with the pandemic.

Many countries are on lockdown with all nonessential offices forced to close, but some countries like Holland, are using targeted lockdowns, which has allowed more businesses to remain open. Some European governments have introduced furloughs to protect employment, during these shutdowns, Robinson said.

The fact that some job functions are more suited to working from home than others is also reflected in the Aternity benchmarks. 

"Countries with a higher proportion of office or service jobs will see less of a fall in productivity than those with higher proportion of tourism or manufacturing," Robinson said.

Robinson said it is difficult to link declines in productivity to paid sick leave for looking after family members.
  
Social forces also influence personal and business decisions differently in regions of Europe.

"Many Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, are characterised by multi-generational family units with an older population, making it more likely that an employee will not be able to work as they are caring for a family member," Robinson said.   

Aternity Benchmark calculations are based on total time spent on work-related applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook, and Salesforce while excluding non-work-related web browsing such as Facebook, Twitter, and news sites. This includes every type of enterprise app, including SaaS and shadow IT, as well as thick-client apps and those that run on virtual infrastructure.

SEE: Coronavirus and its impact on the enterprise (TechRepublic Premium)

During this crisis, the IT and business teams within Aternity customers use their own data to support employees who are forced to work from home, to identify and address the bottlenecks (such as VPN connectivity), and ensure business continuity. It is also used to analyze the impact of IT on productivity and customer service, and to mitigate the risk of IT change. The benchmark data is used to understand what companies can do to support remote work and to identify emerging trends that they have not yet experienced.

Data from China and Hong Kong offers some guidance about when productivity could return to normal in Europe, North America, and other regions around the world.

After a drastic 90% reduction in work related computer activity starting on Jan. 23, activity levels returned to pre-outbreak status about 10 weeks later. During this time, the percentage of remote work went up to 55% from about 35%.

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Aternity's COVID-19 Remote Work Productivity Tracker measures overall productivity in hours of work computing time to understand how work habits have changed due to remote work during the coronavirus epidemic.

Image: Aternity