In these unprecedented and challenging times, this study aims to show how Maritime Professionals are coping with a new reality. Could this new situation of obligatory home working have some positive perspectives? Could Covid-19 be the catalyst to drive digital transformation in the Shipping industry?
Philip Uhrskov Nielsen
Covid-19 brings new working habits to Greek Maritime Professionals. It becomes evident that the respondents, predominately middle-aged males from middle sized Greek Shipping companies, have been profoundly affected, challenged and changed by this –obligatory- working from home situation. A new breed of home-based employees develops, as the employment scene seems to change considerably. This study reveals that 52% of the respondents have never worked from home before the Covid-19 situation. While the research does not investigate how respondents will react in the future to home working, some observations are clear and one can conclude that business continuity among Shipping companies is very feasible from home locations. This can be expected, as the Shipping business is by nature dealing with a remote asset (vessels), so the employees, this study examined, can be considered as the “forerunners” of home working, and thus their recommendations to employers & employees have significant importance.
It is evident that while “working from home” does have some challenges, the productivity of work significantly increased. However, this does seem to have a cost/negative impact as it involves working longer hours. Children, especially smaller children, were seen as a big challenge when working from home. Of course, this Covid-19 situation cannot be compared to future possible working from home, as the children then will normally be at school. However, the study indicated: that family rules must be set and that companies should have a structure to keep employee togetherness intact. As expected, females seem to be even more productive in disruptive environments, and the fact is that a specific (separate) location for home working has beneficial results. Verbatims:
- “Stay focus & set the rules with the family. Work from home is a challenge but can be managed once the set of rules is laid out”
- “Once or twice a week, conduct a video conference to discuss various issues not related to work. We are doing this the last three weeks and we noted that it brings employees closer”
The respondents showed a great level of maturity concerning working from home and had many good suggestions. From the respondents, it strongly emerged that employers should provide more digital tools to their staff, as well as home connectivity & some equipment. Home/remote working can be seen as a catalyst in the drive towards Maritime Digital Transformation, now coming powerfully & directly from the end users and not just, as previously, by Vendors and Classification Societies.
- “Invest in digital technology and implement more digital solutions”
Very important was the call to enhance internal organization & processes, as doing this will have a significant and positive impact. Additionally, some form of learning in order to assist employees to master the practical skills of maintaining a healthy “work from home” balance, could be conducted. As it is obvious a healthy “work” – “no-work” equilibrium from the same location does require some training & adaptation. This situation is something extreme & completely new to the respondents.
- “Employers should give all the equipment required, provide guidance, guidelines, mentoring and trust their employees that they will do the work. Also keep the communication channels open and lift employees’ morale from now and then!”
A small but interesting point to note is that we found some respondents taking a long time to complete the questionnaire, thus indicating that the ability to multitask – especially common when working on a computer with many applications & multiple browser tabs -, is not always the most optimal. Respondents worked with laptops (mainly company ones) and the majority requested assistance from employers concerning additional equipment, i.e. better internet connectivity and larger/additional screens. Respondents claimed to use a variety of video conferencing tools. Nearly 1 out of 2 usually had the camera on, indicating the need for personal contact:
- “From home the loneliness and lack of human interaction is a challenge”
A mixture of on office premises and voluntary & occasionally home working should strongly be considered at least for some people and at least for some days per month, as it provides increased productivity and employee’s personal satisfaction. A possible future scenario of some days home-working, will not be subject to a similar situation with children distractions, as in this abnormal Covid-19 situation where children and spouses where at home simultaneously:
- “I wouldn’t say easier or harder, it’s different. In some ways it’s better (e.g. when you want to focus on specific targets), on the other hands it may be difficult when you want to implement a change management strategy that requires broad coalitions & consensus”
- “I enjoy it and I would like it to be a choice in Greek industry. It would be nice to be able officially to work remotely, not being the rule but to have the choice and sometimes being able to schedule working hours according to other tasks that should be done within the day”
- “Make this arrangement formal! Don’t feel threatened by people not being physically present, the technology allows for people to stay in touch, with discipline and a good system this can be done”
However, it seems that there are some additional issues that Management could rethink concerning its approach:
- “I find challenging the constant top management meeting conference calls”
- “to prove/convince the GM of my company that working from home doesn’t affect in negative way the business. On the contrary the business can increase “
- “Financial support. The benefit due to minimization of the operational costs at the employer’s premises, to be shared as support to employees”
However, the best method might just be the simplest:
- “ask the employees what they need”
Many respondents acknowledged the fact that a lot is required from themselves in terms of self-discipline:
- “To adapt to these new working pattern and times, I must be self-motivated and follow up my “to-do-list” without someone closely checking me”
- “Not to work AOH (After Office Hours)”
- “To understand that working from my home is in many cases more productive. If the employee is responsible and professional”
To their fellow colleagues, many respondents seem to have already found many of the golden rules:
- “have a dedicated space, keep the working hours, prepare a timeline and stick to it”
- “have a dedicated point at home, properly equipped, prepare your own space for working and use a second screen when possible, but do remember to pause when needed”
And finally, on a more humorous side, quite a few quoted the day-to-day practical difficulties:
- “I must stay away from the… REFRIGERATOR!”
- “Put on cloths and don’t stay in PIJAMAS”
The survey was aimed at Greek Maritime Professionals. The respondents were invited by a number of ways to participate in an online questionnaire.
Nearly half of the people who clicked the link to the survey answered the questionnaire, and almost 8 out of 10 completed the survey: a total of 312 people. This indicates the high interest the subject has. Respondents, mainly middle-aged males, probably similar to reality, indicate that Maritime is maybe still a middle age and plus, profession.
The majority were working for middle size shipping companies with headquarters in Greece. Respondents came from nearly all the departments of a shipping company, providing views from across all divisions.
Working from home: when
The online questionnaire was broadcasted at the beginning of the Covid-19 crises. We aimed to find out when people started to work from home and what they had done in the past.
The vast majority of respondents claimed to have started working from home on Monday 16th March, which seems reasonable as the official lock down from the Greek government was made on Sunday 15th March. However, it is interesting that a 10%, of the respondent who had already been working from home since the previous week (Friday) and furthermore a 14% of them had changed their working location earlier that week, i.e. either anticipating the lock down measures or acting proactively. When we asked the respondents how many days they have worked from home over the past 5 days, the vast majority (76%) stated all five, actually 88% replied 3 days and more.
When asked if the respondents had worked from home before the Covid-19 crisis, the study revealed that 52% of the respondents clearly stated “no”, while 28% stated that they had only done it occasionally, 2-4 days per month. Only a 15% of the people who participated in the study had worked frequently from home before the crises – which indicates that remote working was not a common thing amongst Greek Maritime professionals.
Working from home: where & how
Aiming to investigate in more detail the practicalities of home working, we asked respondents:
While the word “location” and “room” can be interpreted differently, it was a surprise to learn that over half of the respondents had already -quickly- adjusted into the new reality. 18% of them stated that they could work from “any place”, which shows the mobility and flexibility of the new working era and probably represent the younger generations.
The most used device when working from home is by far a laptop, as it is used by nearly 70%, (59% corporate laptops and another 10% claim to use their own personal laptops). It is impressive to see that 25% use their own personal computers.
Interesting findings arise when investigating the Video Conference tools that are used (except the obvious “market-share” of these tools). The big majority, i.e. over 95% of the respondents, are using video conferencing tools. Although many tools are available, Skype does seem to be a synonym to videoconferencing. However, respondents are not using just one tool, but several (the average was 2,2), which indicates that different tools seem to be used in parallel.
The fact that nearly half of the respondents answered that they usually have their camera ON could be a sign that people seek social connectivity via video conferencing. (The Researcher witness a significant “out of stock” of all types of web cameras in all e-shops, both in Greece and across Europe, initially from the cheaper models, but lately to the more expensive ones).
When asked if they could have any additional and better equipment to enable home working what would that be, the 223 people who answered gave 437 answers, the majority of them (84%) declaring that there were many things that they would like to receive, especially 2 things, these being:
Viewability seems to be the number one issue here; bigger and/or larger screens are required. This is logical as most people seem to be working from laptops, and understandable as people are probably navigating through multiple applications/tabs. The 11% which cited “other”, nearly all referred to a printer, indicating that the completely paperless offices it’s still a thing of the future. A company sponsoring better home connections seems to be greatly needed and should maybe be on a company’s fringe benefits program.
Working from home: connecting
When investigating how easy/difficult it is to connect to the company’s systems/platforms, the results were:
Surprisingly very positive in terms of “simplicity” as the average median scores was 8,1.
Also, positive –but to a lesser extent– regarding “speed”, as the average median score was in this case 6,8. To illustrate the difference between “simple to connect” and “speed to connect” we have aggregated the top values which illustrate the huge gap better between the two, indicating that fixing the later, i.e. providing faster home internet connection –as expected– can fuel the work at home concept.
- “Due to internet overload, sometimes the system is slower, so can’t pull files from the server as fast”
- “I use cloud services from google and it has been proven better”
Working from home: results
When we investigated “working from home” in general, we found from all respondents, the following:
Respondents tend to work more hours when at home and believe they are more productive. A slight majority enjoys it more than being in the office. To some others though it seems to be slightly harder to cooperate with other people when they need to.
- “More hours but in different times”
- “Total hours are about the same, but they are spread out over a greater length of time during the day”
- “Less hours but higher productivity”
When examining Productivity and Enjoyment the following can be observed:
Working from home (often with additional hours) does seem to have an overall positive impact on productivity. Concertation & focus are major factors which increase efficiency, as distractions and noise also exist in the office. Although many people feel relaxed and at ease in their home environment those who have children (and who were home due to the Covid-19 School closure), mentioned “children” as being a huge interrupting factor, significantly affecting productivity. It is clear that there are pros and cons for working from home, the first being the removal of commuting (both in terms of fuel cost and time waisted), as well as the fact that many people feel more relaxed and comfortable at home. Home cooked meals and even having the kids around (sometimes) are cited as being elements that increase enjoyment. The people interaction one can have at the office was often referred to, thus showing how important the lack of it is.
- “Freedom to prioritize and be the owner of your schedule”
- “Working from home give me more flexibility and personal space, therefore I feel more comfortable doing my job and it is easier to do an extra mile”
- “Less commuting time, less distractions & disruption, less breaks, more hours”
- “Less human interaction (e.g. meetings, visits, telephone calls, coffee breaks, colleagues do not come around for general chatting etc.), i.e. less discussions/arguments, i.e. less time wasted”
- “I feel more comfortable I like the concentration, but I miss the interactions with the colleagues”
- “More comfortable. No need to dress full. Can wear jumpsuit, etc. And enjoy wife’s cooking delicacies anytime!”
- “For me it is quite the same. While at the office I enjoy my time with my colleagues and at home I enjoy my time with my family and cat”
- “There are some plus’, the added value of having a warm meal during lunch time with my children, interacting with them at any given time but staying at home is also very nerve wracking in general”
Concerning “cooperation with the people you need to deal with”, the analyses revealed that:
While a significant amount of people found no difference, many perceived the lack of face-2-face communication a bit of a challenge, citing however at the same time, that a lot of technology tools are available (phones, emailing, video conferencing tools). This indicates, that as over half of the people had not worked from home before, it was something new to them, and they just needed some time to get used to it and adjust.
- “For those who are more familiar with technology, things are more or less the same. For those who are not familiar with technology, it is more difficult”
- “In face-2-face communication I cooperate better”
- “If people agree to use productivity apps collaboration is a breeze. Otherwise you spend time explaining how to use the tools than actually working”
When one analyzed the 4 “Attributes” by subgroups in a cross-tabulation analysis, the only major statistically significant differences that seemed to exist were:
- females are more productive at home, indicating that they already grasp working in disruptive (children?) environments.
- younger professionals at home, work more and enjoy more, this resulting in higher productivity demonstrating that they might feel constricted in the classical office setting.
Working from home: challenges
Concerning the biggest challenges for Maritime Professionals working from home, respondents cited an overwhelming amount of confronts:
- The far biggest being distractions from the family (mainly children).
- How to have fast, easy communication and good cooperation with other team members, probably also due to the lack of the appropriate/correct home infrastructure (connectivity / equipment).
- Concentration focus and prioritizing, the first probably because of family distractions, the latter maybe due to reduced or unprepared company communication.
- Additionally, some respondents were anxious as to their own productivity and efficiency.
- Finding and keeping the correct “work-to-family” balance, especially in a confined space, was also mentioned multiple times.
- Loneliness and eating, (while revealed by fewer respondents) indicate the importance of colleague / communication interactions and the later… discipline.
Last but not least, it must be pointed out that a notable number of respondents “opposed” this question and clearly stated: “no issues”. It seems evident that if one can:
a. “Avoid” having the children in the house when home working, or set some ground rules,
b. Improve – even slightly – the home connectivity / equipment,
c. Develop and setup some practical company guidelines on communication and process, working from home will be dramatically more effective and appreciated by the majority of employees.
- “Children at home/I have no separate space (room). Also discipline of working pace (staying focused)” maintain a right family – work balance”
- “To concentrate and be productive for 8 hours, as I was in the office”
- “In such turbulent times, the biggest challenge is to keep your focus at your work without checking the breaking news at your tv set all the time”
- “Maintaining the motivation. I find myself working more “mechanically”, maybe more productively, but with less passion”
Working from home: recommendations
The respondents demonstrated a high level of maturity and had plenty of recommendations for Employers, their advice being:
- Predominantly concerning IT infrastructure. People requested equipment (laptops & screens), better connectivity and, for the company, to invest in digital & cloud solutions.
- The second most suggested issues was: better organization & procedures. More effective and better communication, clearer briefings, better defined workflows and specific follow-ups.
- Quite a few touched on the human element and the need to stay in touch and be motivated.
- Finally, it seems that some are seeing the benefits of also working from home and are suggesting a mixture of working both at home and in office.
- “Implement more digital solutions”
- “A screen to connect to my laptop. Also, a chair and a proper office would be very good to have, otherwise everybody will soon suffer from back problems”
- “I would like my employer to arrange weekly meetings, schedule regular fixed times for video conferences with specific topics/agendas, so that we can share our progress and goals”
The respondents gave lots of practical guidance to other colleagues – fellow Employees:
- The most important of which was finding a dedicated spot, location or room.
- As well as to be professional, meaning one must be self-disciplined, focus and set priorities.
- Adopting vigorous personal time management was often referred to. For instance: keeping the working hours, developing a morning routine (i.e. dress as if going to the office), taking regular breaks.
- Respondent’s stressed in a variety of ways that patience and being calm was necessary, indicating that they have been profoundly impacted by the Covid-19 crises.
- “Have good internet connection, minimize disruptions (kids, spouse) and seek understanding from counter parties. Set rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work”
- “Establish daily working routine asap and stick to it. Get up in the morning and wear your clothes even if you are staying at home. Take regular breaks and do not miss meals. stop and take some exercise if needed. Do not exceed your work hours as this causes everyone else in the company to so the same. You might afford it, others do not”
About the Survey:
The online survey took place from the 23rd till the 31st of March 2020, one week after the obligatory working from home was issued by the Greek Government. The analysis was done in April. The reason for conducting this study was that the Researcher represents a small number of International companies that service Greek Shipping companies and in comparison to the rest of Europe, the working from home concept was not at all common in Greece, prior to Covid-19. The study wanted to investigate this new current way of working from home for the Greek Maritime professionals. Aiming to identify the current situation, the perceptions point out difficulties and contemplate if the current crises could help change / modify / improve the employment scene, the productivity of Greek Shipping companies and, to a great extent, aid the Digital Transformation of the Maritime Industry.
The sample size and respondent profile (in terms of sex, age and job title) cannot be regarded as an accurate representative of the entire Greek Shipping Professional population. The respondents were invited to complete an anonymous online questionnaire, by email and/or LinkedIn invitations by the Researcher, who had a larger proportion of emails (network) from Purchasing, Technical and HSE Professionals, from a middle to a senior level, thus some sample bias does exist. Notifications were also sent by the two media which supported the study: Elnavi and Maritime Economies. The well-known Plaisio retailer sponsored the survey by giving a computer to one of the respondents. (The winner who wishes to remain anonymous was a Crew Manager from a Shipping company, instructed us that the computer was to be given to a public Maritime Academy situated in a Greek island).
Is an innovative company representing some of the “best-of-bread” technology companies focusing on the Digital Transformation of the Shipping industry. Thus, assisting global Shipping Companies to unlock their full potential by using big data & user-friendly web-based analytics efficiently. In the areas of: Revolutionizing maritime safety using a predictive risk model (by HiLo – United Kingdom), Collision prevention through AI & navigational transparency (by Orca– Israel), Procurement efficiency & transparency (by ShipServ – Denmark). Holistically integration of fleet operations (by 90PoE – United Kingdom).
 actually, at the moment when the research was conducted and the responses were collected and analyzed, it was not clear when “office working” will resume.
 at least initially, as one cannot extrapolate this finding into the future.
 thought-out this document some respondents‘ comments are cited “as is” (Verbatims) so as to give a vigorous description of their views.
 By email and by LinkedIn invitations.
 Sample is skew towards the contact details that the Researcher had and are not necessarily representative of the total investigated population.
 This could be a bit incorrect, as it was not clear if they are referring to the people working in the office only, and/or included crews from vessels.
 These figures are not necessarily an accurate representation of the size nor importance of the departments in a shipping company.
 as a location could also be considered a desk/corner within a larger room, i.e. living room and not a separated isolated/closed room.
 Via a lucky draw at the end of the Survey.