Are IT engineers more efficient when working from home?
Tue 4 Aug 2020 | Andrius Ulenskas
IT support had to rise to the Covid-19 challenge. Here’s how one company’s engineers increased productivity during lockdown. By Andrius Ulenskas, technical director at Hyve Managed Hosting
Just a few short months ago, having the option to work from home was considered little more than a perk of the job. Who could have predicted that it would soon become a question of public health and safety?
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a baptism of fire for businesses, many of them thrust into a remote working situation without the chance to acclimatise or get the necessary tools in place. Even the most cloud-friendly, digitally mature companies will surely have struggled to keep their productivity levels up during such a turbulent shift. But what if the opposite is true?
Baptism of fire
In the weeks following lockdown, employees had to adapt very quickly to a brand new working environment. This period of change quite rightly had many businesses worrying about their productivity levels, wondering how their staff might cope with new tools, systems and ways of communicating and collaborating.
This concern was doubled in more complex fields like IT support, where any reduction in productivity would have a direct impact on customers that were most likely struggling to adapt to remote working themselves. IT companies should be the ones carrying the torch, setting an example and leveraging technology to solve difficult problems.
As it turns out, most of them seem to have risen to the challenge.
A survey conducted in June 2020 found that nearly 50 percent of IT professionals had experienced an increase in productivity since being asked to work from home. 35 percent of those asked said they were indifferent or their productivity had stayed consistent.
Only 16 percent felt like their productivity had been hampered in some way, but these were the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, Hyve’s own data seems to further lend credibility to the idea that productivity may have actually increased as a direct result from working from home.
Like most businesses that have a hand in IT support, Hyve records and catalogues support tickets as they come in. What’s perhaps more interesting, is that the business can also track the amount of time it takes to resolve a support query and close the associated ticket.
With all of Hyve’s IT engineers currently working from home, we can easily compare pre-lockdown data with post-lockdown data to check for any correlation. This should give us an insight into the productivity of Hyve’s IT engineers which could, with a healthy dose of critical thinking, be extrapolated to the field in general.
One of the first things we noticed when looking at the data was the number of support requests.
With so many businesses struggling to adapt to remote working, we would have expected the number of support requests to increase. Instead, they have largely remained the same, aside from the last week in March when request numbers nearly doubled.
This might not tell us much about our IT engineers in particular, but it does neatly demonstrate just how quickly some businesses were able to adapt. The last week in March is a particularly significant period, as that’s when lockdown officially began and offices up and down the country began to close their doors. Our data shows us that there was a brief flurry of support tickets (more than double our usual amount) this week, but things quickly went back to normal in April, May, June and so on.
Fig 1: A small spike in the number of support requests in the last week of March, but otherwise business as usual. Jan – May 2020
So we now know that aside from that last week in March, our IT engineers have largely had the same workload throughout the pandemic as they would have had before it.
That makes the next piece of data a lot more interesting. As well as tracking the number of support requests coming in, Hyve also tracked ‘queue length’ which basically refers to how long it takes to resolve and close an open support request.
Fig 2: The length of time it took engineers to resolve support tickets before and after lockdown. Jan – May 2020
What’s surprising about this chart is the difference it highlights between pre lockdown and post lockdown queue length. The previous graph told us that there was a spike in support requests in the last week of March, and that’s reflected here as a spike in queue length around the same time. This is likely due to our engineers getting inundated with a higher-than-usual number of requests, so naturally it will have taken them longer to resolve individual issues.
However, what is striking is the sustained reduction in queue length that follows the end of March spike. There could be a number of reasons for this reduction in queue length. It could simply be that support requests post lockdown have been simpler and therefore easier to deal with. Or perhaps people are now more concerned with smaller, individual issues than company-wide ones.
Both of these instances are possible, but not likely. If anything, we’d expect the nature of any tickets raised to increase in complexity given the technological challenge now facing all businesses.
What’s more likely is that Hyve engineers are simply more efficient at dealing with and closing down tickets when working from home. This could be due to any number of factors, but I think a distraction-free environment and an improved work-life balance are certainly motivating forces when it comes to productivity.
If businesses were considering remote or ‘agile’ working before the pandemic, they should now be openly embracing it and perhaps even considering it as a long-term change to working culture.