Remote working has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerating this trend. More recently, however, companies appear to be swinging back away from remote work (As City of London Rolls Back Flexible Working, It’s Losing Women – Bloomberg and Flexa Careers | Flexible Workplaces Offering Freedom & Choice).

Fans of remote working cite the positive effect on work-life balance that it brings to the workforce, as well as the savings it brings to businesses who can downsize their offices. Opponents point to the impact on communication and teamwork from not having teams co-located and the difficulty it creates in bringing in and nurturing young talent, who are not as exposed to their colleagues at a key point in their training and development.

Both fans and opponents also use the impact on productivity to bolster their cases. Fans claim it does not impact productivity or even improves it as workers use the extra time to get more done, whereas opponents claim that remote working leads to employees slacking off away from the mindful gazes of their colleagues and bosses.

Given the disparity in views on the impact on productivity and the recent trend we have been seeing from some of our clients towards more in-person working, we thought we’d have a look at what research there is out there:

Positive Impact on Productivity

  1. Increased Productivity: According to a survey by ConnectSolution, 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when working from home, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period[2]. A study by Stanford of 16,000 workers over nine months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%[5].
  2. Better Work-Life Balance: Remote workers have a better work-life balance, which translates into less stress and anxiety, more happiness and productivity, and more time for hobbies that stimulate them[2].
  3. Healthier Lifestyles: Remote workers enjoy a healthier work-life balance and reduced stress, which can lead to healthier lifestyles[6].

Negative Impact on Productivity

  1. Lower Productivity: Fully remote work is associated with 10% to 20% lower productivity than fully in-person work, according to a working paper published by Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy and Research[4]. Some papers have linked remote work with productivity declines of between 8 and 19 percent, while others find drops of 4 percent for individual workers[1].
  2. Communication Challenges: Challenges in communicating remotely and lack of motivation are the main issues preventing fully remote workers from being more productive[4].
  3. Distractions: At home, it’s easy to get distracted, procrastinate, or put in less work than those working in the office[5].

Tips for Increasing Productivity in Remote Working

  1. Track Time: Maximize productivity by tracking time[2].
  2. Remove Distractions: Help remote employees figure out their most productive work times and plan their tasks around these productivity peaks[6].
  3. Use To-Do Lists: To-do lists can help increase productivity among remote employees[6].
  4. Communication: When you and your team work remotely, communication is critical[6].

 

In conclusion, the impact of remote working on productivity is mixed and relies on surveys based on self-reporting rather than observation and independent measurement. While some studies show that remote working can increase productivity, others show that it can lead to lower productivity. However, the research also shows that there are ways to increase productivity in remote working, such as tracking time, removing distractions, using to-do lists, and improving communication.

Sources:

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/10/business/remote-work-effects.html

[2] https://timeular.com/blog/remote-working-affects-productivity/

[3] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/is-remote-work-to-blame-for-lower-productivity.aspx

[4] https://fortune.com/2023/07/06/remote-workers-less-productive-wfh-research/

[5] https://www.apollotechnical.com/working-from-home-productivity-statistics/

[6] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html