How Did Our Work Productivity Change in 2020?

6 min readDec 23, 2020


Photo by Freddie Marriage

The level of one’s productivity is defined by multiple factors. Some of them can be handled with relative ease, while others are absolutely out of our control. For instance, you can exercise daily and have a good amount of sleep each night to maintain enough energy for productive work. You can also arrange a distraction-free workspace and implement time blocking to stay focused and efficient for longer hours. However, you can’t do much about technological development, big cultural changes and worldwide pandemics except accepting and adapting to them.

The COVID-19 outbreak became one of the most significant of such uncontrollable external factors that influenced our productivity in 2020. By now, even a brief mention of social distancing, health crisis and other joyless COVID-related stuff make the majority of people sigh with deep sadness at the least. Nevertheless, forced quarantine has had an evident positive impact on individual and business productivity worldwide.

So, in this article, we’ll discuss the major productivity changes and trends that took place this year and will likely affect the way we work and collaborate in the future ahead.

A Massive Shift to Remote Work

Before the lockdown, still many company owners frowned upon the very idea of remote working. However, as the pandemic continued to intensify in February and March, most businesses had a tough choice to make — either close all operations completely or allow employees to work from home. As a consequence, the interest in remote work and the actual work-from-home rate have drastically increased:

  • Before COVID-19, only 17% of Americans and 5% of UK employees worked remotely full time. 47% of the US employees never worked remotely (Statista; Office for National Statistics).
  • The number of global Google searches on work from home and remote work setups reached its historical peak by March 15 (Statista).
  • The number of remote job applications has grown 4.65 times in India, 4.26 times in Australia, and 4.12 times in China from March to May 2020 (LinkedIn).
  • By the end of March, already 57% of US employees had an option to work remotely and/or flexible hours (Gullup).
  • In such Asia-Pacific countries as the Philippines and Malaysia, nearly 40% of the workforce commenced working remotely after the start of the quarantine (The Straits Times).

These figures prove that remote work arrangements have become a new norm. And for those employers who embraced the transition, all the fears and risks have paid off — most businesses and individuals are reporting either the same or a higher level of productivity after shifting to work from home.

  • During the first months of the lockdown, 75% of employees said they were able to maintain or increase productivity when managing individual tasks, and another 51% could maintain or increase productivity when handling collaborative work (BCG).
  • 48% of global employees like working remotely full time: 28% report being happy about it, and 21% excited (Lenovo).
  • Organizations that already had effective collaboration practices in place even before the quarantine were able to maintain productivity during the lockdown, while some of the best companies increased their productive time by 5% or more (Harvard Business Review).
  • 82% of managers expect to have more flexible work policies after the pandemic (Microsoft).
  • 71% of employed individuals (both managers and their subordinates) would like to continue to work remotely at least part-time (Microsoft).

The findings make it clear that remote work arrangements are here to stay. However, only those businesses that implement the right strategies and instruments to foster efficient collaboration, team communication and a high level of employee engagement will reap all the benefits they provide.

At the individual level, successful work from home requires some adaptation too. Without a good structure and daily routines, one can struggle to find the right work-life balance and will end up overworking. Plus, it would help if you found ways to cope with the lack of in-personal interactions with colleagues and avoid multiple distractions. To learn about some practical solutions for boosting remote work productivity, read this guide.

Widespread Technology Integration

Digitalization remained one of the most impactful technology trends during the past few years, yet a recent boom in telecommuting has only emphasized its significance. According to the World Economic Forum, the unfolding pandemic is pushing businesses to accelerate digitalization by 84% and automation by 50%. And indeed, productive performance is impossible in remote work settings without efficient technologies.

In fact:

  • Collaboration and communication through social technologies (as opposed to such standard tools like email) may increase productivity in knowledge workers by approximately 25% (
  • 94% of businesses that apply video conferencing tools report an increase in productivity and considerable cost reductions (BlueJeans Network).
  • 72% of business decision makers believe that AI allows employees to focus on meaningful work much more (PWC).

So, how successful were businesses in adopting emerging technologies and capturing all their benefits during 2020?

According to research findings obtained by Lenovo in July 2020:

  • 19% of global workers regarded their employers as technological leaders in their industries and believed they were successful in keeping up with the latest tech.
  • 46% of global workers thought that their companies were failing to meet all their current tech needs.
  • 82% of respondents reported that their employers faced some barriers (e.g., low budgets, difficulty in employee training, etc.) when trying to keep up with technological advancements.
  • Although the adoption of teleconferencing tools has increased since March 2020 — with Zoom seeing as much as 200 million meeting participants a day — 31% of employees were not satisfied with their teleconferencing experiences.
  • Plus, 1 in 3 global employees was concerned about an elevated risk of data breaches during work from home.

A study conducted in Singapore at the beginning of the COVID outbreak revealed a somewhat the same state of events: 60% of businesses were not fully equipped for staying productive in the remote work mode.

Nevertheless, employers and business decision makers do recognize the importance of technology in the present-day environment. Hence, to adapt to future emergencies and crises more effectively and maintain efficient performance in any situation, most of them are investing in the improvement of their remote work infrastructures to boost collaboration and enhance data security.

Remote Meeting Fatigue

Regardless of the many positive effects that remote work and associated technologies may have on our productivity, telecommuting comes with its own challenges. According to recent research, remote collaboration and teleconferencing tend to be more exhausting for employees than in-person communication with colleagues.

  • During the pandemic, the number of meetings has increased by nearly 13% on average, and while each separate meeting has become less time-consuming, the overall amount of time spent on meetings has risen significantly (Harvard Business Review).
  • Employees show much higher stress levels in video meetings than when working on tasks not related to them. Usually, the focus fatigue starts to set in 30–40 minutes into a meeting session (Microsoft).
  • On days densely scheduled with video conferences and calls, one starts to feel stressed just two hours after the beginning of the workday (Microsoft).

According to researchers at Microsoft, the factors that result in meeting fatigue are:

  • The necessity to continually concentrate on the screen in order to grasp key information and stay engaged;
  • The lack of opportunities to read non-verbal cues;
  • Screen sharing with no view of people you’re talking to.

Based on these findings, by having too long or too many video conferences every day, you can exhaust and stress out your team members and make them less productive. Therefore, for better work outcomes, it’s recommended to limit meeting time by 30 minutes or dividing more extended conferences into several parts with small breaks in between.


2020 was a real challenge for pretty much every business and individual on planet Earth. However, the times of crisis are not only about misery and despair. Periods like these encourage us to find creative solutions. They make us more adaptable to problems ahead.

Like the experience of many technologically advanced businesses and telecommuting employees has demonstrated, to boost productivity in even the most difficult of situations, one needs to accept changes, stay flexible and be attentive to emerging trends. Hence, you may want to build a stronger remote work infrastructure, adopt longer-term remote work policies, apply efficient collaboration strategies and focus on employee engagement and training. Following these simple rules, you’ll be able to keep a high level of work efficiency — always.

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