Work from home during natural disasters and other events that cause workplace displacement can enhance employee and company resiliency, a new study suggests. The research, conducted by the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and published in the journal Work, studied a large oil and gas company in Houston to analyse ergonomic software data from 264 employees. The company was forced to close its offices during the period of study because of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, requiring employees to work from home for an extended period.
Looking at employee technology data before, during and after the hurricane, the researchers found that employees’ work behaviour during the seven-month period returned to pre-hurricane levels despite a decline in total computer use. The finding suggests that remote work does not have a negative impact on workplace productivity.
The study, published in IOS Press in February, offers insights into information workers who have become used to and interested in remote work as a result of Covid-19.
Mark Benden, director of the Ergonomics Center at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said there would be a greater percentage of the workforce involved in office-style technology work activities in the future. Almost all of the employees studied during the research were back to the same level of output as they were before the hurricane. Benden added that this was a huge message for employers because there were national debates about allowing employees to work remotely or in hybrid mode.
This study is part of the Ergonomics Center’s efforts into looking at the information workers’ health. Ostensibly less taxing than blue-collar work, information workers are, however, prone to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Benden said the research showed that if an employee worked a certain way at a certain pace for a certain duration, they were more likely to get injured from that work. However, if they work a little less or a little infrequently or break up the duration, then they are less likely to develop a problem from doing office work.
The researchers believe this information could be used to promote healthy behaviour for employees, including those involved in remote work, and inform corporate policies. The researchers will also look to track the ergonomic environment in home offices of employees. The team believes this type of data would help companies address remote employee health issues such as depression, stress, and substance abuse.
Benden also noted that breaks did not hinder quality of work. People who took the recommended breaks were more productive overall, he said. They got more work done.