People are working from home and spending more time on computers, but are less productive

A new Aternity study also shows that remote work in Europe has declined, as stay-at-home orders have relaxed.

How maps are helping track the pandemic

Remote employee productivity during the coronavirus pandemic was the topic of a new study by enterprise software company Aternity, "The Remote Work Productivity Tracker; Global Trends in Remote Work Productivity." Specifically, Aternity sought to find out what kind of effect application performance has on remote employee productivity. 

Significant findings of the three-volume study include: As stay-at-home restrictions in Europe have eased, remote work has declined; despite spending an additional three hours on their computers, employee productivity has decreased; many are starting later in the day and using apps to connect with colleagues, and the highest amount of remote work is in North America.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

"The study puts some hard evidential data around what we have all been thinking, that the last two months have mainly been staring at a computer screen, without even an occasional face-to-face meeting to give the eyes a rest," said Mark Robinson, global lead, data science innovation at Aternity. 

"Most of the non-productive hours of the day, like commuting to and from the office, sociable lunch breaks, chats in the corridor, have been replaced by even more screen time, such as on-line meetings, so we all feel like we are working harder," Robinson said. "The study shows that the extra 'work' is mainly on-line collaboration, the kind that would have been done without a computer when in the office, so, although the overall business output has been maintained, the productivity rate, measured as output per hours in front of a computer, has dropped."

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs  (TechRepublic)

Other questions Aternity asked of respondents:

  • Are remote employees working during more hours of the day?
  • If so, is it because expectations for applications were not met?
  • What kind of IT investment would equate the digital experience of employees at home and at the office?
  • How long will it take for the workplace to return to pre-pandemic "normal?"

North America continues to have the highest share of WFH employees, with levels steady at about 85%. In the first two weeks of May, telecommuting in Europe has declined to 76%.

"Employees in knowledge-intensive industries, like finance and insurance, can more easily make the shift to remote work than employees in more 'hands-on' industries like manufacturing, mining, and hospitality," said Mike Marks, head of product marketing, Aternity. He added, "According to World Bank data, North America has among the highest percentage of knowledge workers per capita."

Robinson added, "The study answers the questions of who, what, where, when and how WFH has been adopted. The question of 'why' is much harder to give a definitive answer to as there are so many different influences. For example, our study shows Skype was used far more than Teams and Zoom, but why would that be when Zoom dominates the consumer world? One possible answer is 'tech debt,' where enterprises that made a big investment in Skype for Business continued to use it, whereas those who did not have a current standard collaboration tool, followed the new trend of Zoom."
 
SEE: Zoom vs Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you (TechRepublic)
 
Because of the necessity to adapt work practices to WFH settings, home use of heavy-duty apps, such as CAD systems or call centers lagged behind productivity apps by two weeks. However, SaaS and born-in-the-cloud applications have similar or sometimes better performance for remote workers, with client-server applications designed for on-premises use degraded performance. The wait time for collaboration applications is around 0.2%, compared with wait times for compute-intensive CAD and analytics applications, which consume about 10% of total usage time. 

Healthcare and legal applications are deemed the most successful, with education apps showing the worst performance. In general the worst application performance is in South America, Africa, and India, which are taking twice as long as European counterparts.

"The difference between industries is more of a reflection of their working environments and historic investment in IT, rather than the applications themselves," Robinson said. "For example, finance companies spend about three times more of their revenue on IT than retail does, so you would expect them to have newer, faster laptops to run the applications on."

Aternity's charts chronicle the share of remote work, starting with Feb. 10 through May 7, and compare the overall percentage of remote work for North America, Europe, China and Hong Kong, APAC (not including China and Hong Kong), Middle East and Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Another chart looks at the percentage of selected applications from those working from home:

  • Call centers
  • Productivity
  • CAD users

The Global Remote Work Productivity Tracker looked at application activities, examining the comparative use on the same dates, between

  • Zoom--sending Zoom meetings
  • Outlook--previewing mail
  • Excel--opening the application
  • Word-opening the application

The study looked at a one-hour period from 10 to 11 a.m. EDT on May 11, 2020, to determine the distribution of response times for opening an Excel file, which occurred 48,294 times in that single hour. The vast majority of users were at one second, with an average of 5.55 seconds. For some users it took up to three minutes to open an Excel Spreadsheet. The purpose of the study was to distinguish between each employee's experience and to not rely on just averages.

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Image: Aternity
collaboration.jpg

Image: Aternity
productivity.jpg

Image: Aternity

The global study examined the differences between application performances and used this map to show the number of seconds waiting for an application performance:

The report said that companies know that improving the employee experience will help maintain business continuity and productivity.

Application performance, Marks said, "has a key role in affecting productivity. Productivity suffers when employees have to wait longer for response from their business-critical applications."

Data was aggregated from millions of employee devices from more than 500 Global 2000 companies being managed by the Aternity Digital Experience Management Platform, an enterprise SaaS solution. 

Also see 

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Image: Aternity

By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...