Lessons from the first wave, the upside: Pandemic productivity

As countries battle a second wave of infections, businesses are rightfully anxious about the future. Lockdowns loom, and with them decreased activity in a number of sectors.

ARTICLE | 5m read
January 6, 2021

It prompted us at Fieldwork by Citrix to ask whether the first wave of the pandemic contained any lessons to leaders and employees as they face down yet another challenging chapter.

To find out, Citrix partnered with VERJ, part of U.K.-based LAB Group, to launch a survey of comparative linguistics research. We examined the language used in social feeds, looking at how mindsets have changed since the onset of the pandemic. These anonymized observations, some of which are excerpted below, illustrate new ways that businesses have managed, both successfully and unsuccessfully, since lockdowns first took hold. Despite the difficulties of a year in which many workforces moved to remote overnight, not all observations were negative. In fact, according to our research, some aspects of work life have actually improved.

In Part 1 of “Lessons from the first wave,” we look at the upside of lockdown: four silver linings that can help guide organizations through what continues to be a bewildering, scary, yet promising time.

Fewer distractions at home than at work

According to what we observed on social feeds, there are far fewer distractions at home. Across social media, people were 5.1x more likely to say “productive” and “productivity” in work from home threads, vs. in a general workgroup thread. Reddit conversations grew in work from home groups this year as well. People were 7x more likely to mention distractions over the course of the pandemic.

"I feel my team is more productive, too,” one source said. “Fewer distractions, and people free to work a bit on their own schedule outside of meetings.”

“All in all, I hope we never go back to the office,” the source continued. “My productivity would take a hit, and I'd end up working later into the evening or on weekends."


increase in mentions of “distractions” over the course of the pandemic

Workers don’t miss the commute

Verbatims from the research show that people appreciate the extra time afforded by losing their commute. Rather than spend an hour in transit, workers get that time added back into their day. This makes them feel more productive as a result and shows up in the way they talk about the pandemic online.

In 2020, people were 41.2x more likely to mention “commute time” in threads relating to work from home. This extra time pays dividends in other areas of life: People were 3.1x more likely to mention a “lunch break” in 2020 than in 2019. Although there are also many cases of longer hours and “Zoom fatigue,” there are strong anecdotal signals that working from home has been a welcome shift.


increase in mentions of “commute time” in 2020 in threads relating to work from home

Enterprise security endures—for some

The pandemic has tested companies’ tech capabilities. Switching between apps, challenges accessing locked data, and system failures have preyed not just on IT departments’ nerves, but on remote employees’ ability to focus on the work that matters. But digitally mature organizations have managed surprisingly well.

A shift to robust, virtual environments has reduced the time workers spend finding and accessing what they need. Multi-factor authentication and other measures keep employee and enterprise data secure, no matter their physical location.

And with people 37.3x more likely to mention “plugins” in 2020 than in 2019, employees are leveraging their own best methods in an attempt to make work from home life as seamless and self-reliant as possible.


increase in mentions of “plugins” in 2020, compared to 2019

Teams need leadership more than management

The change in working conditions has shone a bright light on the importance of empathetic leadership. The trick is there’s no one-size-fits-all, blanket approach that works for the entire workforce.

Under remote-working conditions, some management styles thrive while others make life more difficult. “Middle management” as a topic of discussion significantly over-indexed in 2020—up 16.5x in Reddit’s work from home thread vs. the WorkGroup thread.

“The principles of great culture and leadership are the same [now] as they were before,” says Daryll Scott, Human Systems Thinker and Ambassador at LAB Group. “But now they are a necessity if we want to create working conditions where people can be happy, healthy, and productive.

“It is now a necessity for businesses to adopt a postmodern culture of team leadership rather than line-management,” he continues. “Effective remote working requires high trust—valuing outcomes rather than visibility.”


Daryll Scott
Human Systems Thinker and Ambassador
LAB Group


increase in mentions of “middle management” in Reddit’s work from home thread, compared to the WorkGroup thread

The road ahead

No matter how long teams remain largely or fully remote, these silver linings are poised to become durable components of a post-pandemic work experience. That’s why it’s essential to heed them today.

The research shows that people enjoy the increased flexibility of remote working, but they are reliant on secure tech systems and hands-on leadership to take full advantage of this moment.

Not even the most bullish tech evangelists could have anticipated the digital growth that the past year has put most businesses through. But although a switch to remote working has brought with it tremendous challenges, it has enough advantages to power businesses through a second chapter.

In Part 2 of “Lessons from the first wave,” we will explore where some of these deeper challenges lie. Stay tuned