Australians say they are more productive working from home than the rest of the world, but technical problems, relationships and digital communications remain sources of stress, according to new research.

Atlassian service provider Adaptavist conducted a survey of 2,800 knowledge workers across the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia on the benefits and challenges posed by remote working.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a huge portion of the world’s workforce to work from home for an extended period of time, bringing with it a set of unique opportunities and issues.

The study found that 85 per cent of Australians reported being either equally or more productive when working from home compared to the office. A third of those surveyed said they were more productive than being at the office. This is just higher than the global average, which was at 82 per cent.

In terms of challenges, Australians ranked technical issues, relationship management challenges and daily worries about communicating on digital platforms as the most significant.

No off switch

Those surveyed also said it was the pressure from others that kept them “always on” rather than the temptation to keep working, in contrast to respondents from the UK, US and Canada.

More than a third of Australians said that the “always on” nature of digital communications was the central source of stress, along with the number of channels to check and the absence of boundaries between work and home lives.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents did not switch off work notifications out of hours.

With less than half of Australian respondents saying they had been given any training on how to use the digital collaborative tools, and remote working set to become the norm moving forward, businesses need to ensure they are doing everything possible to reduce the stress for employees, Adapativist CEO Simon Haighton-Williams said.

“An overnight transition has been forced upon the business world and companies have had to rise to the challenge by doing whatever seems to work immediately,” Haighton-Williams said.

“Now it’s time to reflect and analyse this, to see what positive patterns have arisen that we need to reinforce, and what negative patterns we see, that need to be changed. Those that get this right will innovate faster, be more operationally efficient and attract top talent. Those that don’t will likely struggle to survive.”

On the positive side of things, more than half of those surveyed said that company-wide communication had improved when the workforce was working remotely, while 45 per cent agreed that meeting effectiveness had improved.

No more office politics

Across the countries surveyed, workers were also very happy that working remotely meant no longer having to deal with office politics.

“In many organisations surveyed, their culture and use of tools meant that those who were not in the same physical location as the people they were working with, were less able to fully input and collaborate,” Haighton-Williams said.

“There was an imbalance, or divide in the way they communicated. The ‘accidental’ benefit of everyone being remote is that communication, collaboration and decision-making can be the same experience for everyone. This effect is something organisations should cherish and preserve if, and when, they return to the office.”

With remote working, the productivity of team members should be measured in terms of defining and tracking outcomes achieved rather than just hours worked, according to future of work expert and Ignite Global CEO Kim Seeling Smith.

“Productivity is up, but not without its costs,” Seeling Smith said. “Australians are proving that we are agile and impressive, but experiencing burnout, longer hours and a blurring between work and home lives. We need a mindset shift to reduce workload and stress for managers and staff.

“Business leaders must also support staff with the technology and tools to do their jobs now and in the ‘next normal’, which will be a work from office / work from home hybrid at best.

“As Victoria has shown us, our situation can change rapidly. We need to be prepared.”