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The digital workplace at home

Society is engaged in a heated debate about whether we should return to offices after the pandemic. Should we go back to how things were before Covid-19? Should we continue to work from home and enjoy the benefits of greater flexibility and efficiency that many people feel this has brought?
Man in front of three screens.
Working from home – will that be the new normal?

Or can we organise an orderly return where we can benefit from the positive experiences we have had, but still keep some of what we were deprived of when the pandemic arose when it comes to social distancing, inadequate ergonomics at home and endless working days in two dimensions on Zoom? There is a big risk that decisions will be made at senior management level based on gut feelings or own experiences. Better then to collate information and facts about how employees have experienced this period.

That is exactly what we have done. Just before the summer period, we took that opportunity at KTH to obtain knowledge about how our own employees have experienced working online from home. We wanted to do this before the summer break when everyone still had their home working experiences fresh in their mind, as we envisaged the return to work that we are now seeing the start of, would perhaps produce different results.

We can state several things straight away. Women are generally more positive to working from home than men, this was the case in all questions. We can also see that the group that least appreciated working remotely were aged 30 or younger, not particularly surprising as these are often doctoral students who live in very small apartments on their own. The biggest advantages of working from home were given as greater flexibility, more time for other things, better opportunity to work undisturbed, and not having to commute to and from work.

The biggest disadvantages given were the lack of social contact, isolation/feelings of loneliness, less creativity, difficulty in drawing the line between work and free time, and inadequate ergonomics.

Of the 1,353 people who answered the questionnaire, 71 percent said that cooperation with colleagues and collaborative partners worked well when they worked remotely. A majority felt the number of meetings had increased and questioned what this was due to and what could be done about it. 56.4 percent said that the number of meetings had increased, while 38.8 percent said that they had remained at the same level and 8.5 percent that they had gone down. 52.3 percent felt that digital meetings produced equally good results as in-person meetings, while 25.3 percent disagreed.

62.6 percent said that the advantages of working remotely outweighed the disadvantages. And on the question of to what extent they would like to work from home in the future, most respondents said they would like to work remotely to some extent, 1–2 days per week (30.7 percent), or 2-3 days per week (33.4 percent) were desirable. 10.4 percent wanted to work full time on site.

The question is what the workplace would look like and be experienced if only half the employees were there? Would this lead to an A team and a B team? Would you expect everyone to be there on the days you come into work? Or would you come to work simply to spend all day in Zoom meetings?

I think we need to discuss what sort of workplace we want in future in far more detail. Do we want to continue to have a worklife where we are mainly seen and work together digitally or does the work we do require us to be seen in-person in the same room?

Which environment would benefit students best and what form of work is needed for our organisation to continue to develop? What we can all agree on is to aim for what benefits our organisation at large best and then loyally work towards this rather than looking to optimise our organisation in a way that is best for us personally.