Employee and company resiliency may be enhanced through the opportunity for employees to work remotely during natural disasters and other events that cause workplace displacement, a new study shows.
Researchers worked with a large oil and gas company in Houston, Texas, to analyze ergonomic software data from 264 employees. During the study period, the company was forced to close its offices because of flooding from Hurricane Harvey, which required employees to work remotely for an extended period.
The researchers looked at employee technology data before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey. They found that although total computer use declined during the hurricane, employees’ work behaviors during the seven-month period of working remotely returned to pre-hurricane levels. This finding suggests that remote work does not negatively affect workplace productivity.
This study in IOS Press offers important insights into information workers who have become increasingly used to and interested in working remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the future, there will be a greater percentage of the workforce who is involved in some sort of office-style technology work activities,” says Mark Benden, who is director of the Ergonomics Center at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.
“Almost all of the study’s employees were right back up to the same level of output as they were doing before Hurricane Harvey. This is a huge message right now for employers because we’re having national debates about whether or not employees should be able to work remotely or in a hybrid schedule.”
The study is part of a large effort by the Ergonomics Center that is looking at the health of information workers. Although seemingly less taxing than blue-collar work, information workers are prone to injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
“The research says that if you work a certain way at a certain pace over a certain duration, you’re more likely to become injured from that work,” Benden says. “But if you work a little less or a little less often or break up the duration or have certain other character traits—like posture—then you’re less likely to develop a problem from doing your office work.”
The researchers believe this information can be used to promote healthy behaviors for employees, including those working remotely, and to inform corporate policies. They also will look at tracking the ergonomic environment in employees’ home offices. The team believes that tracking this type of data can help companies address remote employee health issues, including stress, depression, and substance abuse.
“The question was whether we could track people and rather than letting them stay in a bad place, a bad habit, or bad behavior, could we give them a healthful nudge over the computer to remind them that it was time to take a walk or a break,” Benden says.
“We as humans are not very good at keeping track of time, especially when we’re in the zone. In order to keep us from physically hurting our bodies, we need to have nudges and reminders, which people respond to, and which work really well.”
Taking breaks does not hinder employees’ quality of work, Benden says.
“The people who took the recommended breaks were more productive overall. They got more done,” he says. “We need to learn this about people, we need to teach people about it, and then we need to help people actually do it.”
Source: Texas A&M University