New Study Shows Working From Home Could Be Damaging for Mentally Demanding Tasks

A new study looking at skills in online chess tournaments from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) shows that working from home could be damaging for mentally demanding tasks.

This insight is particularly relevant to those working in the knowledge economy. Cognitive skills used in chess are also used for complicated tasks that require clear and precise thinking and strategic decision making such as drafting a legal contract, preparing a tender document or making managerial decisions.

According to the research with chess players, working from home whilst doing complicated tasks and detailed thinking, might have adverse effects on doing cognitive performance. The research was conducted by  Dr Dainis Zegners, Assistant Professor in the department of Technology and Operations Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), Dr Zegners and his co-researchers from Maastricht University Dr Steffen Künn and Dr Christian Seel.

Dr Zegners and his colleagues measured the effect of working at home using world-class professional chess players taking part in an online tournament from their homes. Their results give food for thought for managers and their teams who are looking at prolonged periods of working from home.

When live events were prohibited during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, chess tournaments were held online instead. The researchers used the online chess tournaments to assess the impact of moving tasks normally done offline into an online setting. They assessed the quality of chess moves and associated errors using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the form of a powerful chess engine called Stockfish.

The research concludes that mentally demanding tasks are more difficult to handle at home than when physically present in a workplace. Based on the chess players’ performances, excessive use of homeworking can hurt productivity.

Dr Dainis Zegners said: “We’re not saying that people should not work from home.  However, our results show that there can be a drop in productivity for cognitively demanding tasks that needs to be accounted for.”

This in turn highlights the need for employers to adapt and respond to ensure staff working from home are given extra support going into 2021.

The results of the research are published in the working paper Cognitive Performance in the Home Office – Evidence from Professional Chess.

About the author

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times

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