Harvard Study Suggests Knowledge Workers More Productive From Home

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – According to a recent study published by Harvard Business Review (HBR) the pandemic lockdown has improved how people perform their jobs.

In 2013, HBR surveyed 45 knowledge workers on 329 activities related to their jobs. In May and June of 2020, HBR repeated the survey, questioning 40 workers on 264 job activities. Work activities were broken down into categories based on interaction. The categories included training and development, interaction with upper management, interaction with co-workers or peers, management of subordinates, external communications, and individual work.

The 2013 survey results revealed that workers spent two-thirds of their time interacting with colleagues, most often in meetings, or doing their individual work. Much less time was spent in Interaction with upper management, management of subordinates, and external communications. Additionally, minimal time was spent on training and development.

In the 2020 survey, 12 percent less time was spent in meetings and interaction with peers, and time spent in external communication increased by 9 percent. The time spent in individual work remained the same at about one-third of total time. Additionally, less time was spent in communication with upper management, and slightly more time was spent on training and development.

In 2013, 38.1 percent of time was spent in interaction of peers and in 2020 the total percentage decreased to 26 percent. Individual work comprised 33.4 percent of time spent in 2013 and only increased to 34 percent in 2020. In 2013, external communications took up 10.8 percent of time spent in work but in 2020 the time spent increased to 19.6 percent. Management of lower level employees totaled 9.9 percent of time in 2013, increasing in 2020 to 10.0. Interaction with upper management took up 6.3 percent of work time in 2013, but in 2020 that fell to 1.9 percent in 2020. For training and development, the percent of work hours spent in 2013 was only 1.9 percent but in 2020 the percentage increased to 8.7.

Participants in the survey were also asked about how they chose to prioritize their workflow. The options included the task as being a part of the standard job or asked by the boss, a request from a colleague, spontaneous task, or the task was important so time was made for it. In 2013, 52 percent of activities fell under the standard part of the job, 18 percent was requested by a peer, 24 percent was important and required time allotment, and 3 percent was spontaneous.

In 2020, standard tasks remained about the same at 50 percent. However, a drastic change was seen in tasks requested by peers and important tasks. Only 8 percent of tasks were requested by peers, and 35 percent of tasks were important in 2020. Six percent of tasks in 2020 were spontaneous.

Respondents were also asked about the attitude of the work they accomplished. In 2013, 43 percent of the work was discretionary, and 57 percent was considered important. In 2020 there was a definite shift in tasks as 22 percent was discretionary, and 78 percent were essential assignments. In 2013, 41 percent of tasks could have been done by someone else, and 59 percent were specific to the worker. In 2020 only 27 percent of the tasks could have been offloaded to someone else, and 73 percent of assignments required personal attention.

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