For many professionals, a work-from-home day was a rare, but welcome, occurrence. Sure, you traded your Aero chair and giant monitors for a kitchen table and a tiny laptop screen. But not having to commute and the comforts of home often outweighed those hassles. After all, who’d judge you for taking a catnap after a marathon conference call?
That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic led many companies to shutter offices, sending waves of employees home to work remotely. At the time, there were questions about how employees would respond to that massive and sudden shift. Would productivity suffer? Would they feel disconnected from their coworkers?
According to Capital One’s 2020 Work Environment Survey, concerns about the transition to remote work were largely unfounded. The report found that 78% of employees agree that working from home can be as effective as working in the office, and 64% agree that remote work has increased their productivity. “Even while employees have had to work through a lot of changes, they’re seeing a lot of positive benefits of working remotely,” says Stefanie Spurlin, vice president of Workplace Solutions at Capital One.
Of course, transitioning to remote work has presented challenges to employees. The Capital One survey uncovered strategies employees have relied on to make that transition more manageable. For instance, 52% have created consistent schedules, and 37% have fashioned separate workspaces at home to help them be more productive. Capital One began planning for potential COVID-19-related workplace disruptions in February and began shifting employees to remote work in March. Meghan Welch, senior vice president of enterprise human resources and chief diversity, inclusion and belonging officer, says the company instituted programs to help employees navigate this new reality. Those included offering guidance on how to stay connected and collaborate effectively with coworkers, and tips for parents on how to handle working remotely while kids are home, all housed in a dedicated COVID-19 resource hub.
“We’ve found that by staying nimble in times of uncertainty, we can better support the changing needs of our associates,” Welch says. “And by listening to our associates first, we can best determine the right path forward.”
GOOD TECH MATTERS
Beyond the emotional challenges of remote work, many workers also are feeling the physical differences of a work-from-home set up: During the pandemic, just 28% of employees were provided equipment to set up a home office, and only 11% were given a stipend or allowance to purchase the home office tools they needed. For some employees, the home office consisted of a rudimentary set up such as a laptop on the dining room table. But while that may be fine for a day of remote work, it’s not an ideal long-term solution.
“What we see is that a laptop, which isn’t meant to be a primary computer, is actually being used as the primary computer,” says Susan Kotowski, a certified professional ergonomist and an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati. Earlier this year, Kotowski and her colleagues surveyed hundreds of faculty and staff members to investigate their home-office setups. They found a number of ergonomic issues, including poor seating and lighting and eye-straining monitor placements. The takeaway: The ergonomic workplace setups many employees have become so accustomed to aren’t being replicated at home, causing muscle fatigue, tired eyes and, yes, even injuries. “This is something that companies should be taking seriously,” Kotowski says.
At a minimum, employees should make sure to have a comfortable (and adjustable) office chair and a separate keyboard and monitor. Even adding an external keyboard and mouse to a laptop can do the trick. Kotowski suggests users elevate the laptop so they don’t have to crane their necks to see the screen. “You can use a pile of books, a box or even a laundry basket,” she says. “The key is to get the monitor higher.”
Early in the pandemic, Capital One saw the need to equip its newly remote workforce with better office equipment and initiated a program that enabled employees to order the most requested home office items—monitors and ergonomic desk chairs—to be delivered to their doorsteps. “The health and well-being of our associates has always been a top priority,” Welch says. “We understood early on that accommodations would be needed to maintain a sense of normalcy for our more than 40,000 associates working remotely.”
Spurlin notes that companies that want to help employees build a productive—and safe—home office should start by figuring out not only what tools their employees need, but also what types of support. She suggests deploying quick surveys to identify where employees need help, and then coordinating with HR, tech, and other departments to mobilize that assistance. “At the end of the day,” she says, “it goes back to making sure that you’re capturing the voice of your employees, really understanding what they need, and what will best support them.”