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Are We Really More Productive Working from Home?

Data from the pandemic can guide organizations struggling to reimagine the new office..

  • By Rebecca Stropoli
  • August 18, 2021
  • CBR - Economics
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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t your typical office worker. He was No. 3 on the 2020 Forbes list of the richest Americans, with a net worth of $125 billion, give or take. But there’s at least one thing Zuckerberg has in common with many other workers: he seems to like working from home. In an internal memo, which made its way to the Wall Street Journal , as Facebook announced plans to offer increased flexibility to employees, Zuckerberg explained that he would work remotely for at least half the year.

“Working remotely has given me more space for long-term thinking and helped me spend more time with my family, which has made me happier and more productive at work,” Zuckerberg wrote. He has also said that he expects about half of Facebook’s employees to be fully remote within the next decade.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage in many countries, and variants are complicating the picture, but in some parts of the world, including the United States, people are desperate for life to return to normal—everywhere but the office. After more than a year at home, some employees are keen to return to their workplaces and colleagues. Many others are less eager to do so, even quitting their jobs to avoid going back. Somewhere between their bedrooms and kitchens, they have established new models of work-life balance they are loath to give up.

This has left some companies trying to recreate their work policies, determining how best to handle a workforce that in many cases is demanding more flexibility. Some, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify, are leaning into remote work. Others, such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, are reverting to the tried-and-true office environment, calling everyone back in. Goldman’s CEO David Solomon, in February, called working from home an “aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” And JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said of exclusively remote work: “It doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for culture.”

This pivotal feature of pandemic life has accelerated a long-running debate: What do employers and employees lose and gain through remote work? In which setting—the office or the home—are employees more productive? Some research indicates that working from home can boost productivity and that companies offering more flexibility will be best positioned for success. But this giant, forced experiment has only just begun.

An accelerated debate

A persistent sticking point in this debate has been productivity. Back in 2001, a group of researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon, led by Robert E. Kraut , wrote that “collaboration at a distance remains substantially harder to accomplish than collaboration when members of a work group are collocated.” Two decades later, this statement remains part of today’s discussion.

However, well before Zoom, which came on the scene in 2011, or even Skype, which launched in 2003, the researchers acknowledged some of the potential benefits of remote work, allowing that “dependence on physical proximity imposes substantial costs as well, and may undercut successful collaboration.” For one, they noted, email, answering machines, and computer bulletin boards could help eliminate the inconvenience of organizing in-person meetings with multiple people at the same time.

Two decades later, remote-work technology is far more developed. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that, even in pre-pandemic 2019, more than 26 million Americans—approximately 16 percent of the total US workforce—worked remotely on an average day. The Pew Research Center put that pre-pandemic number at 20 percent, and in December 2020 reported that 71 percent of workers whose responsibilities allowed them to work from home were doing so all or most of the time.

The sentiment toward and effectiveness of remote work depend on the industry involved. It makes sense that executives working in and promoting social media are comfortable connecting with others online, while those in industries in which deals are typically closed with handshakes in a conference room, or over drinks at dinner, don’t necessarily feel the same. But data indicate that preferences and productivity are shaped by factors beyond a person’s line of work.

The productivity paradigm

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford’s Nicholas Bloom  was bullish on work-from-home trends. His 2015 study, for one—with James Liang , John Roberts , and Zhichun Jenny Ying , all then at Stanford—finds a 13 percent increase in productivity among remotely working call-center employees at a Chinese travel agency.

But in the early days of the pandemic, Bloom was less optimistic about remote work. “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” Bloom told a Stanford publication in March 2020. “This will create a productivity disaster for firms.”

To test that thesis, Jose Maria Barrero  of the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, Bloom, and Chicago Booth’s Steven J. Davis  launched a monthly survey of US workers in May 2020, tracking more than 30,000 workers aged 20–64 who earned at least $20,000 per year in 2019.

Companies that offer more flexibility in work arrangements may have the best chance of attracting top talent at the best price.

The survey measured the incidence of working from home as the pandemic continued, focusing on how a more permanent shift to remote work might affect not only productivity but also overall employee well-being. It also examined factors including how work from home would affect spending and revenues in major urban centers. In addition to the survey, the researchers drew on informal conversations with dozens of US business executives. They are publishing the results of the survey and related research at .

In an analysis of the data collected through March 2021, they find that nearly six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home than they expected to be, compared with 14 percent who said they got less done. On average, respondents’ productivity at home was 7 percent higher than they expected. Forty percent of workers reported they were more productive at home during the pandemic than they had been when in the office, and only 15 percent said the opposite was true. The researchers argue that the work-from-home trend is here to stay, and they calculate that these working arrangements will increase overall worker productivity in the US by 5 percent as compared with the pre-pandemic economy.

“Working from home under the pandemic has been far more productive than I or pretty much anyone else predicted,” Bloom says.

No commute, and fewer hours worked

Some workers arguing in favor of flexibility might say they’re more efficient at home away from chatty colleagues and the other distractions of an office, and that may be true. But above all, the increased productivity comes from saving transit time, an effect overlooked by standard productivity calculations. “Three-quarters or more of the productivity gains that we find are coming from a reduction in commuting time,” Davis says. Eliminate commuting as a factor, and the researchers project only a 1 percent productivity boost in the postpandemic work-from-home environment, as compared with before.

It makes sense that standard statistics miss the impact of commutes, Davis explains. Ordinarily, commuting time generally doesn’t shift significantly in the aggregate. But much like rare power outages in Manhattan have made it possible for New Yorkers to suddenly see the nighttime stars, the dramatic work-from-home shift that occurred during the pandemic made it possible to recognize the impact traveling to and from an office had on productivity.

Before the pandemic, US workers were commuting an average of 54 minutes daily, according to Barrero, Bloom, and Davis. In the aggregate, the researchers say, the pandemic-induced shift to remote work meant 62.5 million fewer commuting hours per workday.

People who worked from home spent an average of 35 percent of saved commuting time on their jobs, the researchers find. They devoted the rest to other activities, including household chores, childcare, leisure activities such as watching movies and TV, outdoor exercise, and even second jobs.

Infographic: People want working from home to stick after the pandemic subsides

With widespread lockdowns abruptly forcing businesses to halt nonessential, in-person activity, the COVID-19 pandemic drove a mass social experiment in working from home, according to Jose Maria Barrero  of the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, Stanford’s Nicholas Bloom , and Chicago Booth’s Steven J. Davis . The researchers launched a survey of US workers, starting in May 2020 and continuing in waves for more than a year since, to capture a range of information including workers’ attitudes about their new remote arrangements.


Aside from commuting less, remote workers may also be sleeping more efficiently, another phenomenon that could feed into productivity. On days they worked remotely, people rose about 30 minutes later than on-site workers did, according to pre-pandemic research by Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia  of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and SUNY Empire’s Victoria Vernon . Both groups worked the same number of hours and slept about the same amount each night, so it’s most likely that “working from home permits a more comfortable personal sleep schedule,” says Vernon. “Teleworkers who spend less time commuting may be happier and less tired, and therefore more productive,” write the researchers, who analyzed BLS data from 2017 to 2018.

While remote employees gained back commuting time during the pandemic, they also worked fewer hours, note Barrero, Bloom, and Davis. Hours on the job averaged about 32 per week, compared with 36 pre-pandemic, although the work time stretched past traditional office hours. “Respondents may devote a few more minutes in the morning to chores and childcare, while still devoting about a third of their old commuting time slot to their primary job. At the end of the day, they might end somewhat early and turn on the TV. They might interrupt TV time to respond to a late afternoon or early evening work request,” the researchers explain.

This interpretation, they write, is consistent with media reports that employees worked longer hours from home during the pandemic but with the added flexibility to interrupt the working day. Yet, according to the survey, this does not have a negative overall effect on productivity, contradicting one outdated stereotype of a remote worker eating bonbons, watching TV, and getting no work done.

Remote-work technology goes mainstream

The widespread implementation of remote-working technology, a defining feature of the pandemic, is another important factor for productivity. This technology will boost work-from-home productivity by 46 percent by the end of the pandemic, relative to the pre-pandemic situation, according to a model developed by Rutgers’s Morris A. Davis , University of North Carolina’s Andra C. Ghent , and University of Wisconsin’s Jesse M. Gregory . “While many home-office technologies have been around for a while, the technologies become much more useful after widespread adoption,” the researchers note.

There are significant costs to leaving the office, Rutgers’s Davis says, pointing to the loss of face-to-face interaction, among other things. “Working at home is always less productive than working at the office. Always,” he said on a June episode of the Freakonomics podcast.

One reason, he says , has to do with the function of cities as business centers. “Cities exist because, we think, the crowding of employment makes everyone more productive,” he explains. “This idea also applies to firms: a firm puts all workers on the same floor of a building, or all in the same suite rather than spread throughout a building, for reasons of efficiency. It is easier to communicate and share ideas with office mates, which leads to more productive outcomes.” While some employees are more productive at home, that’s not the case overall, according to the model, which after calibration “implies that the average high-skill worker is less productive at home than at the office, even postpandemic,” he says.

How remote work could change city centers

What will happen to urban business districts and the cities in which they are located in the age of increasing remote work?

About three-quarters of Fortune 500 CEOs expect to need less office space in the future, according to a May 2021 poll. In Manhattan, the overall office vacancy rate was at a multidecade high of 16 percent in the first quarter of 2021, according to real-estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

And yet Davis, Ghent, and Gregory’s model projects that after the pandemic winds down, highly skilled, college-educated workers will spend 30 percent of their time working from home, as opposed to 10 percent in prior times. While physical proximity may be superior, working from home is far more productive than it used to be. Had the pandemic hit in 1990, it would not have produced this rise in relative productivity, per the researchers’ model, because the technology available at the time was not sufficient to support remote work.

A June article in the MIT Technology Review by Stanford’s Erik Brynjolfsson and MIT postdoctoral scholar Georgios Petropoulos corroborates this view. Citing the 5.4 percent increase in US labor productivity in the first quarter of 2021, as reported by the BLS, the researchers attribute at least some of this to the rise of work-from-home technologies. The pandemic, they write, has “compressed a decade’s worth of digital innovation in areas like remote work into less than a year.” The biggest productivity impact of the pandemic will be realized in the longer run, as the work-from-home trend continues, they argue.

Lost ideas, longer hours?

Not all the research supports the idea that remote work increases productivity and decreases the number of hours workers spend on the job. Chicago Booth’s Michael Gibbs  and University of Essex’s Friederike Mengel  and Christoph Siemroth  find contradictory evidence from a study of 10,000 high-skilled workers at a large Asian IT-services company.

The researchers used personnel and analytics data from before and during the coronavirus work-from-home period. The company provided a rich data set for these 10,000 employees, who moved to 100 percent work from home in March 2020 and began returning to the office in late October.

Total hours worked during that time increased by approximately 30 percent, including an 18 percent rise in working beyond normal business hours, the researchers find. At the same time, however, average output—as measured by the company through setting work goals and tracking progress toward them—declined slightly. Time spent on coordination activities and meetings also increased, while uninterrupted work hours shrank. Additionally, employees spent less time networking and had fewer one-on-one meetings with their supervisors, find the researchers, adding that the increase in hours worked and the decline in productivity were more significant for employees with children at home. Weighing output against hours worked, the researchers conclude that productivity decreased by about 20 percent. They estimate that, even after accounting for the loss of commuting time, employees worked about a third of an hour per day more than they did at the office. “Of course, that time was spent in productive work instead of sitting in traffic, which is beneficial,” they acknowledge.

Regardless of what research establishes in the long run about productivity, many workers are already demanding flexibility in their schedules.

Overall, though, do workers with more flexibility work fewer hours (as Barrero, Bloom, and Davis find) or more (as at the Asian IT-services company)? It could take more data to answer this question. “I suspect that a high fraction of employees of all types, across the globe, value the flexibility, lack of a commute, and other aspects of work from home. This might bias survey respondents toward giving more positive answers to questions about their productivity,” says Gibbs.

The findings of his research do not entirely contradict those of Barrero, Bloom, and Davis, however. For one, Gibbs, Mengel, and Siemroth acknowledge that their study doesn’t necessarily reflect the remote-work model as it might look in postpandemic times, when employees are relieved of the weight of a massive global crisis. “While the average effect of working from home on productivity is negative in our study, this does not rule out that a ‘targeted working from home’ regime might be desirable,” they write.

Additionally, the research data are derived from a single company and may not be representative of the wider economy, although Gibbs notes that the IT company is one that should be able to optimize remote work. Most employees worked on company laptops, “and IT-related industries and occupations are usually at the top of lists of those areas most likely to be able to do WFH effectively.” Thus, he says, the findings may represent a cautionary note that remote work has costs and complexities worth addressing.

As he, Mengel, and Siemroth write, some predictions of work-from-home success may be overly optimistic, “perhaps because professionals engage in many tasks that require collaboration, communication, and innovation, which are more difficult to achieve with virtual, scheduled interactions.”

Attracting top talent

The focus on IT employees’ productivity, however, excludes issues such as worker morale and retention, Booth’s Davis notes. More generally, “the producer has to attract workers . . . and if workers really want to commute less, and they can save time on their end, and employers can figure out some way to accommodate that, they’re going to have more success with workers at a given wage cost.”

Companies that offer more flexibility in work arrangements may have the best chance of attracting top talent at the best price. The data from Barrero, Bloom, and Davis reveal that some workers are willing to take a sizable pay cut in exchange for the opportunity to work remotely two or three days a week. This may give threats from CEOs such as Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman—who said at the company’s US Financials, Payments & CRE conference in June, “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York”—a bit less bite. Meanwhile, Duke PhD student John W. Barry , Cornell’s Murillo Campello , Duke’s John R. Graham , and Chicago Booth’s Yueran Ma  find that companies offering flexibility are the ones most poised to grow.

Working policies may be shaped by employees’ preferences. Some workers still prefer working from the office; others prefer to stay working remotely; many would opt for a hybrid model, with some days in the office and some at home (as Amazon and other companies have introduced). As countries emerge from the pandemic and employers recalibrate, companies could bring back some employees and allow others to work from home. This should ultimately boost productivity, Booth’s Davis says.

Or they could allow some to work from far-flung locales. Harvard’s Prithwiraj Choudhury  has long focused his research on working not just from home but “from anywhere.” This goes beyond the idea of employees working from their living room in the same city in which their company is located—instead, if they want to live across the country, or even in another country, they can do so without any concern about being near headquarters.

Does remote work promote equity?

At many companies, the future will involve remote work and more flexibility than before. That could be good for reducing the earnings gap between men and women—but only to a point.

“In my mind, there’s no question that it has to be a plus, on net,” says Harvard’s Claudia Goldin. Before the pandemic, many women deemphasized their careers when they started families, she says.

Research Choudhury conducted with Harvard PhD student Cirrus Foroughi  and Northeastern University’s Barbara Larson  analyzes a 2012 transition from a work-from-home to a work-from-anywhere model among patent examiners with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The researchers exploited a natural experiment and estimate that there was a 4.4 percent increase in work output when the examiners transitioned from a work-from-home regime to the work-from-anywhere regime.

“Work from anywhere offers workers geographic flexibility and can help workers relocate to their preferred locations,” Choudhury says. “Workers could gain additional utility by relocating to a cheaper location, moving closer to family, or mitigating frictions around immigration or dual careers.”

He notes as well the potential advantages for companies that allow workers to be located anywhere across the globe. “In addition to benefits to workers and organizations, WFA might also help reverse talent flows from smaller towns to larger cities and from emerging markets,” he says. “This might lead to a more equitable distribution of talent across geographies.”

More data to come

It is still early to draw strong conclusions about the impact of remote work on productivity. People who were sent home to work because of the COVID-19 pandemic may have been more motivated than before to prove they were essential, says Booth’s Ayelet Fishbach, a social psychologist. Additionally, there were fewer distractions from the outside because of the broad shutdowns. “The world helped them stay motivated,” she says, adding that looking at such an atypical year may not tell us as much about the future as performing the same experiment in a typical year would.

Before the pandemic, workers who already knew they performed better in a remote-working lifestyle self-selected into it, if allowed. During the pandemic, shutdowns forced remote work on millions. An experiment that allowed for random selection would likely be more telling. “The work-from-home experience seems to be more positive than what people believed, but we still don’t have great data,” Fishbach says.

Adding to the less optimistic view of a work-from-home future, Booth’s Austan D. Goolsbee says that some long-term trends may challenge remote work. Since the 1980s, as the largest companies have gained market power, corporate profits have risen dramatically while the share of profits going to workers has dropped to record lows. “This divergence between productivity and pay may very well come to pass regarding time,” he told graduating Booth students at their convocation ceremony. Companies may try to claw back time from those who are remote, he says, by expecting employees to work for longer hours or during their off hours.

And author and behavioral scientist Jon Levy argues in the Boston Globe that having some people in the office and others at home runs counter to smooth organizational processes. To this, Bloom offers a potential solution: instead of letting employees pick their own remote workdays, employers should ensure all workers take remote days together and come into the office on the same days. This, he says, could help alleviate the challenges of managing a hybrid team and level the playing field, whereas a looser model could potentially hurt employees who might be more likely to choose working from home (such as mothers with young children) while elevating those who might find it easier to come into the office every day (such as single men).

Gibbs concurs, noting that companies using a hybrid model will have to find ways to make sure employees who should interact will be on campus simultaneously. “Managers may specify that the entire team meets in person every Monday morning, for example,” he says. “R&D groups may need to make sure that researchers are on campus at the same time, to spur unplanned interactions that sometimes lead to new ideas and innovations.”

Sentiments vary by location, industry, and culture. Japanese workers are reportedly still mostly opting to go to the office, even as the government promotes remote work. Among European executives, a whopping 88 percent reportedly disagree with the idea that remote work is as or more productive than working at the office.

Regardless of what research establishes in the long run about productivity, many workers are already demanding flexibility in their schedules. While only about 28 percent of US office workers were back onsite by June 2021, employees who had become used to more flexibility were demanding it remain. A May survey of 1,000 workers by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News finds that about half of millennial and Gen Z workers, and two-fifths of all workers, would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about work-from-home policies. And additional research from Barrero, Bloom, and Davis finds that four in 10 Americans who currently work from home at least one day a week would look for another job if their employers told them to come back to the office full time. Additionally, most employees would look favorably upon a new job that offered the same pay as their current job along with the option to work from home two to three days a week.

The shift to remote work affects a significant slice of the US workforce. A study by Chicago Booth’s Jonathan Dingel  and Brent Neiman  finds that while the majority of all jobs in the US require appearing in person, more than a third can potentially be performed entirely remotely. Of these jobs, the majority—including many in engineering, computing, law, and finance—pay more than those that cannot be done at home, such as food service, construction, and building-maintenance jobs.

Barrero, Bloom, and Davis project that, postpandemic, Americans overall will work approximately 20 percent of full workdays from home, four times the pre-pandemic level. This would make remote work less an aberration than a new norm. As the pandemic has demonstrated, many workers can be both productive and get dinner started between meetings.

Works Cited

  • Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis,  “Why Working from Home Will Stick,”  Working paper, April 2021.
  • ———,  “60 Million Fewer Commuting Hours per Day: How Americans Use Time Saved by Working from Home,” Working paper, September 2020.
  • ———,  “Let Me Work From Home Or I Will Find Another Job,”  Working paper, July 2021.
  • John W. Barry, Murillo Campello, John R. Graham, and Yueran Ma,  “Corporate Flexibility in a Time of Crisis,”  Working paper, February 2021.
  • Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying,  “Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment,”   Quarterly Journal of Economics , October 2015.
  • Prithwiraj Choudhury, Cirrus Foroughi, and Barbara Larson,  “Work-from-Anywhere: The Productivity Effects of Geographic Flexibility,”   Strategic Management Journal , forthcoming.
  • Morris A. Davis, Andra C. Ghent, and Jesse M. Gregory,  “The Work-at-Home Technology Boon and Its Consequences,”  Working paper, April 2021. 
  • Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman,  “How Many Jobs Can Be Done at Home?”  White paper, June 2020.
  • Allison Dunatchik, Kathleen Gerson, Jennifer Glass, Jerry A. Jacobs, and Haley Stritzel,  “Gender, Parenting, and the Rise of Remote Work during the Pandemic: Implications for Domestic Inequality in the United States,”   Gender & Society , March 2021.
  • Michael Gibbs, Friederike Mengel, and Christoph Siemroth,  “Work from Home & Productivity: Evidence from Personnel & Analytics Data on IT Professionals,”  Working paper, May 2021.
  • Robert E. Kraut, Susan R. Fussell, Susan E. Brennan, and Jane Siegel, “Understanding Effects of Proximity on Collaboration: Implications for Technologies to Support Remote Collaborative Work,” in  Distributed Work , eds. Pamela J. Hinds and Sara Kiesler, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.
  • Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia and Victoria Vernon,  “Telework and Time Use in the United States,”  Working paper, May 2020.

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home workers more productive

Golf, rent, and commutes: 7 impacts of working from home

The pandemic sharply accelerated trends of people working from home, leaving lasting impacts on how we work going forward. Stanford scholar Nicholas Bloom details how working from home is affecting the office, our homes, and more.

The massive surge in the number of people working from home may be the largest change to the U.S. economy since World War II, says Stanford scholar Nicholas Bloom .

And the shift to working from home, catalyzed by the pandemic, is here to stay, with further growth expected in the long run through improvements in technology.

Looking at data going back to 1965, when less than 1% of people worked from home, the number of people working from home had been rising continuously up to the pandemic, doubling roughly every 15 years, said Bloom, the William D. Eberle Professor in Economics in the School of Humanities and Sciences and professor, by courtesy, at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Before the pandemic, only around 5% of the typical U.S. workforce worked from home; at the pandemic’s onset, it skyrocketed to 61.5%. Currently, about 30% of employees work from home.

“In some ways, one of the biggest lasting legacies of the pandemic will be the shift to work from home,” said Bloom.

Bloom shared his research on working from home at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute ’s “The Future of Work” Winter 2023 Colloquium, which focused on how the ways we work are changing.

DCI Director Richard Saller moderated the event , which featured scholars from Stanford and beyond discussing working arrangements and attitudes, challenges to office real estate, learned lessons about the power of proximity, and more.

Below are seven takeaways from Bloom’s discussion:

  • The employees. About 58% of people in the U.S. can’t work from home at all, and they are typically frontline workers with lower pay. Those who work entirely from home are primarily professionals, managers, and in higher-paying fields such as IT support, payroll, and call centers. The highest paid group includes the 30% of people working from home in a hybrid capacity, and these include professionals and managers.
  • The move. Almost 1 million people left city centers like New York and San Francisco during the pandemic. Those who used to go to the office five days a week are now willing to commute farther because they are only in the office a couple days a week, and they want larger homes to accommodate needs such as a home office. This has changed property markets substantially with rents and home values in the suburbs surging, Bloom said. Home values in city centers have risen but not by much.
  • The commute. Public transit journeys have plummeted and are currently down by a third compared to pre-pandemic levels. This sharp reduction is threatening the survival of mass transit, Bloom said. These are systems that have relatively fixed costs because the hardware and labor, which is largely unionized, are relatively hard to adjust. A lot of the revenues come from ticket sales, and these agencies are losing a lot of money.
  • The office. Offices are changing, with cubicles becoming less popular and meeting rooms more desirable. As some companies incorporate an organized hybrid schedule in which everyone comes in on certain days, they are redesigning spaces to support more meetings, presentations, trainings, lunches, and social time.
  • The startups. Startup rates are surging, up by 20% from pre-pandemic numbers. The reasons: working from home provides a cheaper way to start a new company by saving a lot on initial capital and rent. Also, people can more easily work on a startup on the side when their regular job offers the option to work from home.
  • The downtime. The number of people playing golf mid-week has more than doubled since 2019. People used to go before or after work, or on the weekends, but now the mid-day, mid-week golf game is becoming more common. The same is probably true for things like gyms, tennis courts, retail hairdressers, ski resorts, and anything else that consumers used to pack into the weekends.
  • The organization. More and more, firms are outsourcing or offshoring their information technology, human resources, and finance to access talent, save costs, and free up space. There has been a big increase in part-time employees, independent contractors, and outsourcing. “After seeing how well it worked with remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, companies may not see a need to have employees in the country,” Bloom said.

Interested in hearing more about the future of work? Stanford Continuing Studies will feature Bloom as he discusses “The Future of and Impact of Working from Home” on May 1 as part of the Stanford Monday University web seminar series .

Bloom is also co-director of the Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a fellow at the Centre for Economic Performance, and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research .

Working From Home Increases Productivity

Table of contents.

home workers more productive

Tech developments paved the way for many employees and business owners to work from home for years, and the pandemic prompted a sharp increase in remote work. Working at home is now the norm for many Americans, but is this working arrangement productive? 

Research from Ergotron says yes. Researchers polled 1,000 remote and hybrid employees in the U.S. about their productivity, wellness and other life facets. They found that working from home improves work-life balance, increases productivity and fosters healthier lifestyles. It’s a win-win situation that workers relish for its flexibility.

We’ll look at how working from home boosts productivity and how to stay efficient while managing working relationships remotely.

How does working from home increase productivity?

With all the modern comforts of home beckoning our attention, it would be understandable if employers saw a productivity dip in remote workers. However, the opposite is true. In fact, remote workers appear to be working longer hours while enjoying a healthier work-life balance and reduced stress. 

  • Remote workers are working longer hours. Ergotron’s study found that 40% of employees work longer hours at home than when in the office. And data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows these extended workdays are, on average, about 48.5 minutes longer. For full-time employees, this time could add up to more than 193 additional working hours in a year.
  • Remote workers have an improved work-life balance. Perhaps surprisingly, at the same time, 75% of Egotron survey respondents said their work-life balance has improved since they’ve been working from home. In fact, data from Future Forum corroborates this notion. In April 2022, Future Forum found that remote employees have twice as much work-life balance as full-time office workers.
  • Remote workers experience less stress. A 2020 Nitro study also identified trends toward reduced workplace stress among remote workers. In that study, 29% of remote respondents said they were moderately stressed at work, down from 33% in 2019 when office work was the norm. The study also showed the number of employees who felt “extremely” stressed while working has declined. This figure fell from 17% in 2019 to 15% in 2020 as work shifted from in person to at home.

Fostering a positive work-life balance is a way to keep employees happy – and happier employees are more creative, work smarter and are more productive.

How can workers become more productive at home?

While remote employees report decreased stress levels, workplace stress , pressure and anxiety haven’t dissipated entirely. As remote employees work longer days, balancing their work and life responsibilities is crucial to their mental health and the business’s success. 

Here are some tips to help employees combat stress while maintaining their productivity.

1. Take breaks to reduce stress and boost productivity.

Remote workers often take fewer breaks than their in-office colleagues, but taking breaks is one of the most effective ways for remote employees to stay productive. 

Encourage your workers to get up periodically during the workday, especially when they’re particularly drained or distracted. They can grab a healthy snack, take a walk, call a friend, meditate, etc. 

Many people find success using the Pomodoro Technique, which follows this method:

  • Choose a task.
  • Work on it for 25 minutes.
  • Put a checkmark on a sheet of paper after the 25-minute period ends.
  • Take a five-minute break. (This marks the completion of one “Pomodoro” sprint.)
  • After every four Pomodoro sprints, take a longer break.
  • Continue this throughout the day until your workday is over. 

This technique can help your employees decompress and come back more focused.

2. Follow a schedule for a more productive day.

Another technique to help employees stay productive at home is designating set work hours. Encourage employees to maintain the same schedule they did when they worked in the office. Following a routine will help your workers feel more structured and efficient, and it will help keep their attention focused.

Help remote employees figure out their most productive work times and plan their tasks around these productivity peaks.

3. Use optimized tools to boost productivity. 

According to the Nitro report, many employees found that some tasks became slightly more challenging after transitioning to remote work. That was true even of simple tasks such as signing and editing PDF documents. 

Ensure your remote team has the proper tools to do their jobs away from the office. For example, host short training sessions on specific software applications, implement remote business collaboration apps and install remote working tools that foster communication. 

Tip: The best remote PC access software can help remote employees get assistance from in-office IT team members and resolve tech issues quickly. 

4. Keep a to-do list to stay productive.

To-do lists can help increase productivity among remote employees. Encourage employees to use small business organization apps to note what they wish to accomplish daily so they’re not jumping from assignment to assignment. 

When you and your team work remotely, communication is critical. Set daily or weekly meetings to discuss and prioritize projects and set deadlines so you can stay on track.

5. Eliminate distractions to stay focused and productive.

Distracted workers cost businesses time and money. While the Nitro report suggests that remote employees have more control over their workdays than in-office employees, distractions can still arise at home. 

Text messages, phone calls and social media are all distractions at-home employees may face. Encourage remote workers to silence their phones, create a workspace that improves productivity and stay away from areas of their home that may tempt them to direct their attention elsewhere. 

Consider using one of the best employee monitoring solutions to ensure remote workers are productive and safe.

What are the benefits of working remotely?

Some of the biggest benefits of working remotely include eliminating the commute, building healthier habits and reducing illness. 

  • Remote work eliminates the commute. Eliminating the commute is one of the biggest benefits of working remotely. A 2020 FlexJobs survey found that 79% of respondents said no longer having to commute was a big plus of remote work. The average American spends more than $4,500 yearly on commuting costs, including fuel and auto maintenance. Fully remote workers stand to save this entire amount and eliminate the stress of battling traffic congestion. Additionally, remote work helps the environment by decreasing the number of people taking cars, trains and buses to and from the office. 
  • Remote work fosters healthy habits. Ergotron’s survey suggests remote employees can fit their work around other aspects of their lives since they don’t have to factor in commuting times. For example, some remote employees have found more time to build healthier exercise habits. According to researchers, 50% of remote employees take time to run or walk outdoors. About 35% of remote employees can now work out at home.
  • Remote workers avoid office germs. Additionally, sickness spreads quickly among co-workers sharing the same office space. Offices are typically packed with people who work in close proximity to one another and share germs without even realizing it. Allowing your team to work from home helps stop the spread of illnesses among staff members and their families.

How can you manage relationships when working from home?

One of the downsides of working from home is that it can be challenging for employees to connect with their co-workers. Research from Microsoft found that long-term remote work can adversely affect employees’ relationships with their colleagues. Microsoft found that remote employees have reported missing the informal conversations that occur in the lunchroom and office hallways. 

As an employer, consider using video conferencing or a virtual phone system such as Grasshopper to get your employees together at least once a week. (Read our Grasshopper review to learn more.) This will keep remote workers engaged and help everyone feel like they’re still part of the same team.

Read our reviews of the best video conferencing services to find a system that fits your needs and budget.

What are the potential downsides of working from home?

While working remotely offers benefits, it also has disadvantages. Below are some of the possible downsides that can come with working at home.

  • Lack of motivation: Connecting with like-minded colleagues can encourage employees to share ideas and push them to set and achieve career goals . However, due to decreased social interaction, employees might lose motivation more quickly than when working in an office. And without a manager physically present, it can be more challenging for employees to spark some motivation among themselves.
  • Potential for burnout: The increased time spent working daily can lead remote workers to burn out more quickly than in-office employees. Newer employees might find it difficult to draw a clear line between work and personal time. As a result, they could experience workplace burnout more quickly – and severely.
  • Less performance feedback: Without in-person supervision, it can be easy to overlook how remote employees can improve their performance. While they may have completed a task, did they go about it the right way? At-home employees don’t have managers walking by their desks offering advice about improving their process.
  • Limited access to office equipment: Office employees can easily walk to the supply cabinet and grab what they need. However, remote employees have limited access to work supplies. Equipment such as standing desks, fax machines, and business and consumer laptops can be expensive, but they may be essential for remote employees.

Reliable home internet is essential for remote workers who need a consistent connection to stay productive. Compare internet providers in your area to find the best plan for your needs.

Bringing new meaning to “out of office”

As trends emerge around work environments, employees and employers are finding new ways to keep productivity levels high. Allowing employees to work remotely can boost their morale while ensuring your company meets – or exceeds – its previous efficiency rates. And with these tips to further increase your remote employees’ productivity, your team can accomplish new goals while enjoying their time at your company.

Sammi Caramela contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.


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Are you more productive working from home? This study looks for answers

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Studies in Japan suggest home workers' productivity has increased during the pandemic. Image:  Unsplash/Avel Chuklanov

.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo{-webkit-transition:all 0.15s ease-out;transition:all 0.15s ease-out;cursor:pointer;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;outline:none;color:inherit;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:hover,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-hover]{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:focus,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-focus]{box-shadow:0 0 0 3px rgba(168,203,251,0.5);} Masayuki Morikawa

home workers more productive

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Stay up to date:, future of work.

  • The pandemic helped lead a huge rise in remote working, but there is still relatively little data about the practice and and its impact.
  • Researchers compare two recent studies conducted with home workers in Japan during the pandemic.
  • Their findings suggest the average productivity of home workers has increased but is still lower than that of the usual workplace.
  • They warn that while WFH could become a preferred way of working for employees in the future, a recent survey of Japanese employers found many plan to discontinue the practice.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of workers working from home (WFH) has been increasing rapidly. There has also been a rapid, parallel increase in research on WFH. We now know what workers need to be able to WFH as well as what type of workers are actually WFH. Findings generally show that highly skilled, high-wage, white-collar employees in large firms tend to WFH, meaning that the expansion of WFH has tended to increase inequality in the labour market. However, productivity of WFH has not yet been well understood.

Studies on WFH productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic

Currently, business managers and policy practitioners are interested in whether WFH will continue as a new workstyle after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Productivity of WFH is a key determinant of whether WFH will persist or not, but quantitative evidence on WFH productivity is still limited. Studies based on surveys of workers include Etheridge et al. (2020), Barrero et al. (2021), and my work (Morikawa 2020). 1 Since it is extremely challenging to measure the productivity of white-collar workers, who perform a large variety of tasks, all of these studies depend on the workers’ self-assessment of WFH productivity.

Etheridge et al. (2020) show that, on average, workers in the UK adopting WFH report little difference in productivity relative to productivity before the pandemic. In the US, Barrero et al. (2021) indicate that most respondents who adopted WFH report equal to or higher WFH productivity than productivity on business premises. My study (Morikawa 2020) was based on a 2020 survey of workers in Japan and documents that the mean WFH productivity was approximately 60% to 70% relative to working at the usual workplace and that it was lower for employees who were forced to start WFH only after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. To summarise, studies on the productivity of WFH under the COVID-19 pandemic are still limited, and the results are far from conclusive.

To explore the productivity dynamics of WFH during the COVID-19 pandemic, I extend the analysis of my 2020 study. I conducted a follow-up survey in 2021 to explore the changes in prevalence, frequency, and productivity of WFH during a year of the pandemic and discuss the future of WFH after the COVID-19 pandemic (Morikawa 2021).

Keeping workers well. It is the united aim of a global community influencing how companies will keep employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 testing? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure health at work for all employees?

Members from a diverse range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from over 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than 1 million employees are involved in the COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening ability to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches for returning to the workplace safely as part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, by joining the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare.

Learn more about the impact .

Prevalence and frequency of WFH

Our 2021 survey asked workers in Japan about the adoption and frequency of WFH. The responses show that 21.5% of workers were practising WFH, which is a decrease from 32.2% a year prior. Among only continuing (panel) respondents, the extent of the decline was larger: it decreased from 37.1% to 21.1%. Of the employees who responded to both 2020 and 2021 surveys, 41.7% stopped practising WFH, indicating that a non-negligible number of workers reverted to working at their usual workplace. In particular, individuals with lower WFH productivity had a higher probability of exiting from WFH.

In contrast, the mean share of WFH days (WFH days divided by weekly working days) is almost unchanged during the past year: 55.7% in the 2020 survey and 56.6% in the 2021 survey. Even for the subsample of those who responded to both surveys and who continued to implement WFH, the mean frequencies of WFH are almost unchanged (55.9% in 2020 and 54.3% in 2021). While the change in the extensive margin (adoption) is relatively large, the change in the intensive margin (frequency) is negligible.

Productivity dynamics of WFH

The surveys asked the subjects to self-assess WFH productivity relative to one’s productivity at the usual workplace (= 100). The distributions of WFH productivity in 2020 and 2021 are in Figure 1. The figure shows that (1) the overall distribution has shifted slightly right, and (2) the lower end of the distribution has shrunk substantially. The mean WFH productivity has improved from 61 in 2020 to 78 in 2021 (where productivity at the usual workplace = 100). The subsample of panel employees shows a similar pattern: the mean productivity has improved from 61 to 77.

Figure 1 Change in WFH productivity distribution

A chart showing working from home productivity

The WFH productivity of those who continuously engaged in WFH improved from 70 in 2020 to 78 in 2021. The 8-point increase in WFH productivity comes from, for example, learning effects and investment in WFH infrastructure at home. The mean WFH productivity in the 2020 survey of those who exit from WFH was 49, far lower than that of WFH continuers (70). This selection mechanism contributes to a 9-point improvement in mean WFH productivity. In short, (1) a ‘selection effect’ arising from the exit of low-WFH-productivity employees from WFH practice, and (2) the improvement in WFH productivity through a ‘learning effect’ contributed almost equally to the improved mean WFH productivity.

WFH after the COVID-19 pandemic

Both the 2020 and 2021 surveys asked the telecommuters about their intention to continue WFH after the pandemic. The percentage of WFH workers who answered they would like to practice WFH at the same frequency as they currently do even when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides increased substantially from 38.1% in the 2020 survey to 62.6% in the 2021 survey (Figure 2). Even for the subsample of WFH continuers, the percentage has increased from 56.2% to 68.2%.

Figure 2 WFH after the COVID-19 pandemic

A chart showing a sample of people's intentions to continue working from home after pandemic

We posit that the possible reasons behind this change are (1) the improvement in WFH productivity, and (2) the increasing recognition of the amenity value of WFH. Since there was a strong positive correlation between the intention in 2020 to continue frequent WFH and the actual implementation of WFH in 2021, the result suggests that WFH may become a preferred work style even after the pandemic subsides. As described before, the productivity of WFH is, on average, still lower than that of the usual workplace, meaning that WFH has a high amenity value for teleworkers.

Have you read?

Working from home here’s why you should start your day with a ‘virtual commute’, covid-19: most american workers want to keep working from home, how does working from home impact productivity.

However, according to a survey of Japanese firms conducted in late 2021, the majority of firms are planning to discontinue the WFH practice and revert to the conventional workstyle after the end of COVID-19 (Morikawa 2022b). These contrasting results indicate that there is a large gap between firms’ interests and the preferences of WFH workers. From the viewpoints of the productivity-wage parity and the compensating wage differential, it is possible that WFH workers’ relative wages will be reduced. However, since it is difficult to accurately capture the productivity of individual workers who perform WFH, there is a potential that conflict between workers and management over WFH will arise after the pandemic.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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clock This article was published more than  2 years ago

You may get more work done at home. But you’d have better ideas at the office.

Innovation — and productivity — would suffer if remote work became permanent for most employees.

On Sept. 9, Microsoft canceled its plans for a back-to-the-office target date of Oct. 4 and said it would no longer forecast when it would fully reopen its U.S. work sites. Other companies, notably Apple and Amazon , have delayed their planned reopenings to early 2022 because of the surge in coronavirus infections and the uncertainty surrounding the delta variant. Meanwhile, Kastle Systems’ index of office usage in 10 major metropolitan areas shows that office-going rose steadily from January to July 2021 and then abruptly reversed course.

As long as the coronavirus rages, a sizable share of the American workforce is going to be staying on Zoom. What will that mean for economic productivity? Some commentators are hopeful: After all, there are signs that productivity — the inflation-corrected value of goods and services produced per hour of work — has actually risen in the working-from-home era. Between the second quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2021, labor productivity increased by 1.8 percent compared with an average annual increase of 1.4 percent from 2005 to 2019.

It’s hard to interpret that data, though. Some of the largest productivity gains have occurred in durable-goods manufacturing (the making of items like cars and appliances) — a highly capital-intensive sector largely unaffected by the working-from-home trend. Meanwhile, many of the service-sector businesses, such as bookstores and shoe stores, that had the biggest booms in productivity from 2019 to 2020 also saw significant drops in employment, and it is perhaps unsurprising that a skeleton staff of the most able workers is going to be more productive, per person. When job losses disproportionately occur in low-productivity sectors, such as service work — as has happened during the pandemic — that can also boost overall productivity figures. Nonetheless, some economists have calculated that a substantial shift toward a working-from-home economy could result in a permanent increase in productivity, perhaps because of reduced commuting and fewer of the distractions that can come with office life.

But we don’t think that’s likely. Research suggests that a switch to permanent remote work would make us all less productive.

People who shift to working from home can temporarily increase the amount of work they get done in a given day. But over the medium to long term, long-distance employment can’t deliver key benefits — including learning and new friendships — that come from face-to-face contact. In-person work fosters innovation, the effects of which on productivity almost certainly exceed the gains from working harder at home for possibly unsustainable stretches. An even slightly higher growth rate once people return to offices will quickly outpace the one-time gain from saved commuting time.

None of this is to say that all white-collar workers should return to the office five days a week. The pandemic will surely hasten a move toward a hybrid model that involves some days at home and some in the office, giving workers welcome new flexibility. Still, it’s important to understand the downsides of the working-from-home economy.

How do you get corner-office status if you work from home? GM will find out.

Research has long linked inequality with reduced economic growth , and working from home will make society more unequal. In May 2020, when more than two-thirds of Americans with advanced degrees were telecommuting, less than 15 percent of Americans with only a high school degree or less were doing so. But there are divisions even among white-collar workers: The remote world may seem heavenly for middle-aged professionals with extensive networks of colleagues and comfortable home offices, for example, but it is decidedly less appealing for 20-somethings who are trying to find their way in a new company and to get work done in dark, cramped apartments. As time passes, those workers may find it harder to land promotions and to thrive more generally.

Studies of remote work both before and during the pandemic support that intuition. In separate analyses, economists examined what happened when a Chinese travel agency and a major American retailer split their call centers into groups that worked from home and groups that came into the office. (The Chinese company randomized its workers into the two groups. The American retailer divided its employees less formally.) In both cases, workers at home handled at least as many calls as those who were in the office. In the case study of the Chinese company, published in 2015, productivity went up 13 percent among those who worked at home. In the U.S. case study, employees who went remote — this, too, happened before the pandemic — saw their calls per hour increase by 7.5 percent, a healthy boost to short-run productivity.

But in both studies, the probability of being promoted for the remote workers roughly halved relative to people who worked in person — suggesting serious long-term consequences of remote work. In the U.S. study, for example, 23 percent of on-site workers were promoted within their first 12 months of work, while the remote promotion rate was 10 percent. Promotion meant being assigned to deal with more difficult calls, often with more irate customers. How would you learn to handle those calls if you couldn’t take cues from the workers around you? How would your boss learn that you had the right touch for that particularly angry buyer from Toledo?

A similar dynamic appears to exist in the tech world. Examining hard data on its programmers’ progress, such as specific software contributions, bug fixes and new features, Microsoft reported in January that “developer productivity was stable or increasing at Microsoft and elsewhere post-COVID.” (Still, 30 percent of the company’s workers who were surveyed reported lower productivity during the pandemic.) More recently, however, Microsoft researchers concluded that “firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts.” They also found a shift from synchronous communication (like meetings, phone calls and video sessions) to asynchronous communication (emails and text messages, for example). This reduction in the number of new connections and real-time conversations led the researchers to fear that it will be “harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.”

The difficulties with learning from a distance appear to make companies particularly wary of hiring new workers into remote positions. When the pandemic began, employment and postings fell for all jobs as demand cratered across sectors. By October 2020, however, non-remote job openings were back to pre-covid levels. In contrast, postings for remote jobs were down 35 percent from February to December 2020. In industries where people worked remotely, the online world seemed to function better for those who were already insiders than for outsiders who were hoping for a better future.

The information-rich nature of face-to-face contact led the great English economist Alfred Marshall to write more than 130 years ago that when workers gather in dense clusters, “the mysteries of the trade become no mystery but are, as it were, in the air.” This remains true. Economic studies find that migrants to metropolitan areas see their wages increase month by month, year by year, which is most compatible with the view that people become more productive by becoming enmeshed in a dense, vibrant, face-to-face setting.

Yes, balancing work and parenting is impossible. Here’s the data.

Many other studies affirm this insight, approaching the question from multiple angles. Consider data on emergency call centers — the equivalent of 911 in England. In some cases, the person who takes the call is in the same room as the person who dispatches the officer, and in some cases, they’re in different rooms. Data shows that the time to dispatch an officer is lower when the two are in the same room, and shorter still when their desks are closer together. This is despite the fact that the initial information is filled out and transmitted electronically. In the academic world, research papers written by collaborators in the same building are cited more frequently later on than papers from collaborators at different universities (or even co-authors in different buildings at the same university).

And while some people might be inclined to separate debates over online schooling from discussions of remote work, both involve the creation and dissemination of new ideas. There is copious research showing that the online classroom experience has been disastrous for learning: One study in the Netherlands found that even under ideal conditions, including high rates of broadband access and ample funding, “students made little or no progress while learning from home” and that “learning loss was most pronounced among students from disadvantaged homes.”

The allure of the work-from-home economy is not new. Forty years ago, the futurist Alvin Toffler argued that the new communications technologies of the time (fax machines, early computers) would lead people to abandon offices and leave cities empty. Toffler was wrong then — metropolitan economies rose from their postindustrial ashes — and remains so.

Some amount of teleworking will continue forever; it is just too convenient to go away entirely. But 21st-century companies compete by deploying knowledge and creativity, and these things are sparked more readily when people are in the same room. Video can help us muddle through for a while, but to soar again, we’ll need to get back into the office.

home workers more productive


Rewards and Recognition Made Easy

Are Remote Workers More Productive? We Finally Have the Answer

by Sunny Tsang . In COVID-19 .

Are Remote Workers More Productive? We Finally Have the Answer

Working remotely or “shirking remotely?” Working remotely or “remotely working?” These are the common sentiments of many companies that are hesitant to adopt work from home policies. Lack of oversight for employees is one of the most common reasons businesses are hesitant to embrace working remotely , and it’s easy to see why. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about if remote workers are more productive or not. 

The answer might surprise you. You would think that when you can see and speak with employees in the office all day, it’s easier to keep track of what they are doing, but there’s a flip side to this managerial method: offices provide many distractions, from chatty coworkers to long lunches and frequent trips to the break room.

When one person in the office gets sick, it's likely that everyone will get sick, which hurts productivity.

Even worse: illnesses spread rapidly around offices. When one employee gets sick, it’s almost guaranteed that the rest of the office will catch whatever they are carrying within the next few weeks, halting productivity and heightening the number of sick days your staff takes.

But what was once seen as a benefit is now a necessity. Even before COVID-19, work from home policies were starting to become the new normal . With the novel coronavirus’s onset, many companies have transitioned to working from home full-time to keep employees safe. This begs the question: will productivity be affected? And if so, how?

Well, there’s good news: the data shows that, in fact, remote workers are more productive, but only if employees are engaged on the job. Let’s explore why.

But first: what exactly is “productivity,” anyway?

What exactly do we mean by the word “productivity?” Is it the frequency at which we accomplish tasks, the quality of our output, or how efficient we are? 

Productivity is typically measured by an individual’s output vs. input over a period of time. One example of this is gross domestic product (GDP) per worker , which measures output by person over the course of a year. However, the ways in which we measure productivity today are much more complex.

To understand productivity, we must first understand our reasons for measuring it.

For example, using the methodology above, you might consider a person with a high output productive. However, if their work is low quality, is that person really as productive as you think? The answer is, frankly, no. While this individual might produce a high volume of work, the poor quality leads to a lack of efficiency. Others will spend time resolving errors, revising, and picking up slack where the employee left off. A company might even consider app outsourcing to get the job done.

To truly understand productivity, you must first identify the purpose behind measuring it. Most businesses want a high level of output combined with high-quality work that increases company efficiency. 

In short, productivity is the measure of both the quantity and the quality of an individual’s output with the purpose of increasing efficiency and profits at any company.

So, is the data accurate? Are remote workers really more productive?

The short answer is: yes, but only if employees are engaged.

But let’s dive deeper.

Stanford and Ctrip

A Stanford study by Nicholas Bloom, Eberle Professor in the Department of Economics at Stanford University, and graduate student and founder of Ctrip , James Liang, experimented with giving Ctrip’s call center employees the opportunity to work from home for nine months. The study’s results uncovered much of the misinformation behind productivity when working from home. Nicholas Bloom gave an informative Ted Talk on whether remote workers are more productive that serves as a great resource for companies wary about making the switch. You can view his video below:

If you don’t have time to watch all 14 minutes, here are the highlights of this study:

  • Remote workers made 13.5% more calls than in-office employees, which is the equivalent of almost a full extra day’s worth of work in a given week
  • At-home workers reported higher job satisfaction, and employee attrition decreased by 50% among remote workers
  • Remote workers demonstrated a productivity boost because they eliminated distractions like commuting into the office, changing their work hours to fit their schedules, and worrying about being late
  • Remote workers found it easier to concentrate at home
  • Remote workers took fewer sick days, took less time off, and took shorter breaks

Ctrip also saved $2,000 in rent by reducing the amount of office space they needed each month. However, it’s important to note that this study was conducted at a call center, where success is metric-driven and easy to measure. The study was also conducted over the course of nine months, so it doesn’t offer any data about the longer-term effects of working from home. Furthermore, employees at Ctrip have reported a history of high employee engagement, which contributes to their productivity.

A more recent 2019 survey by Airtasker asked 1,004 full-time employees about their daily work lives. Half of survey respondents work from home the majority of the week. These were the key findings:

  • Remote employees worked 1.4 days more each month compared to their in-office counterparts, which equates to 16.8 (three additional weeks!) of work per year
  • The study found no difference in the quality of work between remote and in-office employees
  • Office workers reported being idle for an average of 37 minutes a day, excluding lunch and routine breaks
  • Remote workers proved to be more productive, only citing 27 minutes of idle time
  • In-office workers were 17% more likely to avoid working when their screen time or mouse movements were tracked
  • Remote workers saved an average of $4,523.04 on fuel each year by eliminating their commutes (and reduced fossil fuel emissions, too!)
  • Remote workers maintained healthier lifestyles by reporting 25 more minutes of physical activity per week than in-office workers

Airtasker employees reported that working from home made them more productive, and they are a highly engaged workforce.

Keep in mind that Airtasker also reported high employee engagement and morale, which is critical when dealing with remote employees. Additionally, the survey was self-reported, meaning employees developed their own answers instead of the company measuring results.

These two studies reflect a single truth: when asking if remote workers are more productive, we should always wonder if remote workers are engaged as well. After all, the two go hand-in-hand. If remote workers are engaged, they are more productive than their in-office counterparts.

5 Ways to Stay Productive While Working from Home

There are lots of factors to consider when implementing a work from home policy. Many worry about the long-term effects of working from home in isolation, while others wonder how to keep remote employees engaged. Here are a few tips on how to stay productive at home for the long-run.

1. Get Up and Move

It’s easier than ever to sit in your comfy office chair all day, only getting up to grab a snack from the kitchen or let the dog outside. However, staying sedentary can actually reduce productivity . Be sure to get up every two hours and move, even if it’s only for five minutes. This actually increases circulation, stimulates your nervous system, and helps activate the parts of your brain that generate new ideas . 

Remote employees are more productive when they have the chance to get up and move throughout the day.

The Pomodoro Technique — a time management system that encourages people to break their days into 25 minute segments (called pomodoros) — can boost your productivity on the job, no matter where you’re located. Participants are encouraged to take 5 minute breaks every pomodoro, and you can use each break to get up and move. The Pomodoro Technique will be an adjustment for those who like to work uninterrupted for hours at a time, but it’s proven to increase productivity.

An added bonus: regularly moving throughout the day keeps you healthier, which is critical with the onset of the novel coronavirus. Since our movement is far more limited than normal due to shelter-in-place restrictions, keep exercise and wellness top-of-mind when working from home.

Wondering if you should take the time to join that virtual group lunch? It's actually more beneficial than you think.

2. Stay Engaged at Work, Even from Home

If your company is arranging weekly virtual lunches or impromptu virtual happy hours, it can be easy to decline and continue typing away in your home office. But to maintain productivity, it’s important that you take frequent breaks and stay engaged with your coworkers. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling isolated and disconnected from your work. In fact, remote workers tend to work longer hours with fewer breaks than their in-office counterparts, so these breaks are critical to help break up the day and avoid burnout .

Be sure to make time for social interaction and participate in virtual company gatherings to stay engaged and connected.

Start your day by making to-do lists to prioritize your work.

3. Make Lists

Start your day by making a to-do list , and prioritize this list by which tasks are most important and urgent. Are you more productive in the morning? The first few hours of your workday might be best for tackling a big project, or you could prioritize your urgent smaller tasks to get them out of the way, clearing the path for hours of concentration on that big project you need to get done. Either way, the emotional satisfaction of crossing items off of your list is proven to boost productivity and provide a nice little hit of dopamine for the brain — a much needed chemical at a time like this.

4. Recognize Your Coworkers for Their Work

It’s easy to let something as simple as a thank you slip through the cracks when working remotely, but now it is more important than ever to express gratitude to your coworkers. Remote workers are more productive, but the downside to this is that they often feel alienated from the rest of the company,

Sending recognition to others is critical to boost productivity when working remotely.

You can combat this by going out of your way to thank others for their work, whether it’s someone who has helped push a project to the finish line or a coworker who took 10 minutes out of their day to listen to you vent. Recognition is one of the most effective ways to keep employees engaged and excited about their work, and it’s more important than ever.

A great way to boost productivity is to incorporate rewards with recognition . Try using a formal recognition platform that enables you to send points along with a note of appreciation to employees. They can redeem their points for thousands of items and experiences. This added incentive helps keep employees motivated and happy on the job, a much-needed morale boost in today’s working climate.

5. Focus on Work-Life Integration

One of the biggest benefits to working from home is the ability to maintain a flexible schedule. Now that schools are closed and children are home all day, it can be challenging to avoid distractions and balance child care with work. While it’s obviously best to avoid distractions when working from home, this isn’t necessarily a feasible goal right now. 

Work-life integration is a new way of framing work.

One way to tackle this problem is to allow yourself the flexibility to get distracted and prioritize your family when you need to by focusing on work-life integration , rather than work-life balance. Work-life integration is different from work-life balance because it emphasizes incorporating work into your daily life and routine without treating it as a binary distinction. Work-life balance focuses on work as its own entity rather than a component of living, while work-life integration treats work as one of the many aspects of life, weighed just as carefully as personal life and giving back to the community. 

Here’s how you put this into practice in today’s world: Focus on work after the kids have gone to bed or when they’ve been shuttled into the backyard to burn off some energy. Another scenario is to make sure you allocate enough time to help your partner around the house throughout the day and set aside some time to get extra work done early in the morning or in the evening after dinner. Remember that our lives have been restructured by the sudden onset of COVID-19, and it’s okay to shape your work life around your family life now that the two coexist in the same space.

Stay Engaged, Stay Productive

By now we understand that the key to increased productivity, whether it’s in the office or working from home, is employee engagement. We are at a unique time in history where we can leverage employee engagement to increase productivity overall now that nearly all employees are working remotely. It’s up to us to use this time effectively and keep our employees engaged, no matter where they are working from.

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The Other Work Remote Workers Get Done

Telecommuting allows caregivers to manage a workload that is, if anything, way too big.

Drawing of a woman with her back to the viewer, in a split screen. On the left, she holds a child and a pot cooks on the stove. On the right, she looks at a computer monitor.

Carolyn Vigil has spent most of her career in Big Tech. She is also the primary caregiver for her 23-year-old autistic son, Jax. Managing these two roles has never been easy, and at various times over the years, Vigil has had to step back from her job for the sake of her kid. It is somewhat remarkable that when schools shut down during the pandemic and Vigil became not only her son’s carer but also his teacher, she didn’t quit her job. “That was definitely challenging,” she told me, but because she was working from home, “I was able to juggle it.” She’s continued working remotely ever since, largely because her son is no longer in school and, though he is semi-independent, he still needs help managing his daily tasks: taking his medications, managing his diet and exercise, and traveling to doctor appointments. So Vigil was distressed when, earlier this year, her company announced that it was calling workers back to the office.

Predicting the future of remote work is hard. On one hand, many American workers really like it and want to be working remotely even more than they are now (though, of course, many workers have never had the option to work from home). And while the amount of work in the U.S. being done remotely is down from its pandemic high, it’s been holding steady near 28 percent for about a year now. In a tight labor market, many employers opted to embrace at least some remote work to help with recruitment and retention.

On the other hand, many employers are getting more vocal about their desire to have employees in the office more often . Vigil’s company is one of many —including Apple, Disney, AT&T , JPMorgan Chase, Dell , Meta , Comcast , Goldman Sachs , FedEx , Walmart , and BlackRock —that have walked back their remote-work policies this year. In August , the White House ordered Cabinet members to “aggressively” prioritize a shift back to the office this fall so that “all of us will benefit from the increases in morale, teamwork, and productivity that come from in-person work.” Even Zoom, the company whose video-calling tech facilitates so much remote work, is requiring many of its workers to return to the office part-time on the grounds that the company sees in-person work as more effective.

Read: Why managers fear a remote-work future

The shift seems to reflect a concern long voiced by executives and managers and backed up by some recent research: that remote work is hampering productivity. One study found that data-entry workers who worked remotely in India were 18 percent less productive than their in-office counterparts . Another working paper published in July found that fully remote workers were about 10 percent less productive than their in-person counterparts (though hybrid work seemed to have no significant effect on productivity).

The appeal of remote work is all too often glossed over as a matter of “quality of life” or “work-life balance.” Those are, of course, important. But that framing also ignores the uncompensated caregiving that Vigil and millions of others provide for America’s young, sick, elderly, and disabled. Their efforts are not just a quality-of-life issue; they’re an enormously important and overlooked part of our economy. For a lot of caregivers, telecommuting allows them to manage a workload that is, if anything, way too big. Remote work, then, isn’t just a question of work-life balance; it’s a question of work-work balance. The traditional conception of “productivity” doesn’t account for this.

For years, feminist economists have complained that the primary methods by which we measure the size and health of the economy leave a whole lot out. GDP, for example, primarily measures goods and services bought and sold in the market economy, excluding those produced by households. Our entire economy hinges on human labor, but the unpaid work that goes into raising a productive laborer is absent from economic indicators. When someone like Vigil leaves their job to care for a family member full-time, they are considered economically inactive. Apart from the money parents and taxpayers spend on children’s care and education, human capital “just sort of pops up” in the national accounts as a fully grown, hard-working citizen, Julie P. Smith, an honorary associate professor at the Australian National University who has written extensively on this topic, told me.

All of this makes for a distorted picture of the economy. Because household production counts for nothing in national accounts, the bump in GDP that results when production shifts into the formal market, such as when a stay-at-home mother enrolls her child in day care and starts a full-time job, is exaggerated . We witnessed the reverse of this during the pandemic—one recent report found that when you account for unpaid household production, the drop in economic activity that occurred during the pandemic was much less severe. This makes sense; a lot of the work previously done by paid laborers didn’t go away—it just shifted into the home. “Instead of going out to a restaurant and eating a meal … a family cooked their own meal in their home. And when they cook their own meal in their home, all of a sudden, they disappear from economic indicators, even though somebody still had to put in the work to, you know, cut the vegetables and cook the meat or fish or whatever it is,” Misty Heggeness, a professor at the University of Kansas who is working on a dashboard aimed at quantifying the care economy, told me. That makes a difference to the restaurant business but not as much to the nation’s productivity as a whole.

Heggeness thinks the lack of comprehensive data on this sort of work is part of why experts took so long to wrap their head around the so-called she-cession . Many assumed that the increased child care brought on by school closures would disproportionately oust mothers from the labor market. It wasn’t until pretty late in the game that it became clear that risk had been overstated. “We’re not good at telling the comprehensive story of the economy, because we completely ignore all the economic activity that is done within homes,” Heggeness said.

Read: The pandemic exposed the inequality of American motherhood

How we measure—or mismeasure—the economy inevitably influences policy making. “What we measure reflects what we value, and shapes what we do,” Smith and her co-author, Nancy Folbre, wrote in a 2020 paper on the subject. The omission of so much domestic work from economic indicators makes policies that support caregiving look like bad investments. Both breastmilk and formula are suitable sources of nutrition for newborns—but only the latter has any economic value as far as GDP is concerned. If an expansion of paid parental leave allowed more new mothers to breastfeed their kids more and rely on formula less, the economy would “suffer” as a result. A similar tipping of the scales seems to be playing out in the debate about remote work: The work that the practice is allegedly hampering is overshadowing the work that it enables.

The most obvious benefit of remote work is that it saves people time commuting. Many American workers sink that extra time into their job —others, and particularly those with kids under 14, devote some of it to caregiving. For Sarah White, who works full-time for a pharmaceutical company, the absence of a commute makes managing her son’s complex medical needs far easier. If she worked in the office, each medical appointment would require multiple trips between home, school, the office, and the doctor. But because her son’s school is three blocks from her home, midday appointments are pretty simple. “I can pop in my car, take him to his appointment, pop him right back to school,” White told me. And she uses slack time throughout her day in a productive manner. “I can throw in laundry and just keep it going … because it’s right next to my office,” she said.

Employers may not like to hear that employees are doing chores on the job, but working in an office doesn’t eliminate downtime—it just restricts how you can use it. Without the option of loading the dishwasher in between meetings, you might chat with a co-worker or check social media. Research backs this up: A survey of workers from June found that those working from home were more likely than their office counterparts to run a personal errand, care for a child, or do chores during the workday—but slightly less likely to play a phone or computer game or read for leisure.

A subtler point is that when it comes to caregiving, just being nearby is valuable, not because someone needs you at every second but because at any second they might . This is an aspect of caregiving that is all too easy to overlook until something goes wrong. Vigil’s area has seen a string of big storms lately, and she happened to be in the office during a downpour that caused a tree limb to fall in her yard. At home alone, her son panicked. Working from home enables her to ensure that he’s okay—both emotionally and physically—during those sorts of unpredictable events.

Read: The remote work-fertility connection

If you account for all of the caring that remote work has made possible, it amounts to an increase in productivity with positive implications for the economy. Compelling evidence suggests that remote work is allowing caregivers to remain employed; it may be why labor-force participation for women with kids under 5 has leapfrogged its pre-pandemic rate. It may also allow workers to do more caregiving. Lynn Abaté-Johnson, who wrote a book about the six years she spent caring for her mother who had cancer, told me she could not have taken on such a large role in her mother’s care if she hadn’t been able to work remotely.

If concerns about our aging population and declining fertility rate are to be believed, then remote work is exactly the kind of thing the United States ought to be embracing. Studies show the flexibility of remote work may be allowing people to have more kids . And even if telework alone can’t raise the fertility rate, it would at least allow more workers to help care for the elderly. Of course, a rethinking of productivity to include care shouldn’t end with embracing remote work. Many other policies, such as paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave, child allowances or cash support for other unpaid caregivers, and predictable and flexible scheduling practices, could ensure that Americans—especially those who can’t work from home—can care for the people in their lives. Even if that means Americans give a little less of their energy to their employers, the greater investment in the people who make up the nation’s economy is worth it.

Vigil eventually managed to obtain a waiver from the return-to-office mandate, but she still goes in once a week or so. When she first read about it in the news, she was forced to consider what she’d do if remaining in the office was her only option. “I really came to the realization that I would probably retire early,” Vigil told me. “I wasn’t really planning to do that yet, but I think it’s that big of a deal for me.” The value of her role as a caregiver is obvious to her, if not to America.

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Hybrid workers: How's the office these days? We want to hear from you

Andrea Hsu, photographed for NPR, 11 March 2020, in Washington DC.

Hybrid work. In many places, it's here to stay.

For those of you at companies that offer hybrid work options, we want to know: What's the office like these days? What's working and what isn't?

We want to hear from new and mid-career employees as well as veterans, from people in entry-level positions and those in C-suites.

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Working from home can bring big health benefits, study finds

A review of 1,930 papers into home working found major pluses, but also downsides such as antisocial hours and being overlooked for promotion

Working from home allows people to eat more healthily, feel less stressed and have lower blood pressure, according to a large-scale review of academic literature on post-pandemic workplaces.

Yet remote workers are also more likely to eat snacks, drink more, smoke more and put on weight, the study found. And employers who believe that people working from home are lazy should think again – they are less likely to take time off sick, tend to work longer hours and to work evenings and weekends.

The review , funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response – a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency, King’s College London, and the University of East Anglia – considered 1,930 academic papers on home working, teleworking and other types of hybrid and home working in an effort to distil the often contradictory research.

Prof Neil Greenberg, a psychiatrist at King’s College London and one of the study’s authors, said the study showed that workers and employers needed to start considering home working with the same seriousness as they did office working.

“In the old days of office working, people realised that if you put everyone in the same room with no sound-proofing, it was all unpleasant and you didn’t have a very productive workforce,” he said.

“Now that we’ve shifted to a home working culture, it makes sense for organisations and the government to make sure that people who are home working are doing it in as effective a way as possible.”

The review, published in the Journal of Occupational Health , identified three themes – the working environment at home, the effect on workers’ lives and careers, and the effect on their health. Greenberg said the research showed that there were winners and losers in many areas of home working. The working environment depended on how much space there was at home, the available equipment and on how much control workers had over their day.

People on higher incomes often enjoyed home working more, but those with more responsibilities at home such as childcare or housework – often women and those living alone – tended to be more stressed.

“Overall, people felt more productive at home,” Greenberg said. “It was particularly good for creative things, but much more difficult dealing with tedious matters. A lot of people worried about career prospects – this feeling that if you’re not present in the office, you’re going to get overlooked.”

Effects on health were clearer. The transition to home working during Covid was linked “with an increase in intake of vegetables, fruit, dairy, snacks, and self-made meals; younger workers and females benefited the most in terms of healthier eating,” the paper said.

One of the studies reviewed found that 46.9% of employees working from home had gained weight, and another put the figure at 41%. Most of the papers reviewed showed that homeworkers were more sedentary.

Greenberg said: “Managers needed to think about finding ways to support their homeworkers and help create their working environment.

“There’s a great adage in science that at some point, we need to stop admiring the problem and actually think about solutions,” he said. “We know quite a lot now. So we need to ask ‘what is the best training for an individual who’s going to become a partial homeworker?’ What we don’t need to do is to ask ‘would it be helpful to train someone to homework?’ The answer is clearly yes.”

Since the end of Covid restrictions in 2022, some companies have insisted that employees return to the office full-time, with firms such as JP Morgan requiring managers to be in five days a week.

“If companies like JP Morgan are afraid that people at home will be slacking, or won’t be doing a good job, and they can’t keep an eye on them, then I think that is an outdated concept,” Greenberg said.

Refusing WFH options will mean that talented employees may find other jobs, and makes companies less flexible in the event of future crises, such as another health emergency or strikes or severe weather conditions that prevent people from reaching their offices, he added.

“If they are doing it merely out of fear, then they risk being left behind,” he said. “We looked at a huge amount of evidence of the years and what our review shows is that there are ways to make the home working approach actually work well for the organisation and also for the employee.”

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Remote workers actually aren’t more productive. Will bosses finally call them back in this year?

An illustration of a cubicle. One half looks like a normal cubicle, and the other resembles a home office.

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These days, it looks like the bloom is coming off the rose for remote work : Many employers are talking tougher . New research shows employees are actually less productive when they work from home full-time. And, with the tight job market starting to slacken, some predict 2024 will be the year employers finally clamp down.

But don’t be too quick to conclude things are going back to the days of 9 to 5 in the old cubicle.

It’s true that widespread studies based on standard measures of efficiency have found that fully remote employees are 10% to 20% less productive than those working on company premises. Challenges related to communications, coordination and self-motivation may be factors in the decline.

And some employers have been warning that those who fail to meet new standards for being in the office may find adverse effects on their performance evaluations and incomes.

But the new research that showed lower productivity by full-time remote workers also found that those on a hybrid schedule — some days at home and some on site — were about as productive as those in the office full time. And there’s some evidence that companies offering greater flexibility to workers may achieve better financial results .

Los Angeles, CA - December 19: Jackie Gebel works in a common space at ChowNow on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. ChowNow is an online food ordering platform for restaurants that with an office that encourages employees to work from and also has employees coming in more than is required. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A study’s surprise finding: Most workers want to be in the office more often

A surprising study shows most workers like working remotely some days but would prefer to be in the office more often than they are.

Jan. 4, 2024

Potentially even more important than abstract data are the surprisingly deep feelings of a great many workers about holding on to at least some degree of flexibility. And those personal feelings, which involve such cut-to-the-bone issues as commuting and the cost of child care, are being reinforced by gains in communications technology and the persistent shortage of qualified workers.

Since the pandemic, John Sturr, a 58-year-old social worker for Sonoma County, has been working two to three days a week from his desk in his bedroom. On days in the office he confers with colleagues and responds to walk-ins. He’s come to love the arrangement.

“The commute is beautiful, through vineyards” along the Russian River Valley, he says, “but it’s an hour out of your day.” The time that Sturr saves he uses to put dinner on early and run errands.

“I’ve never been able to telework my whole career. Previous managers were always suspicious. This is kind of amazing.”

Productivity vs. profitability

Today, about 30% of all full-time employees are on a hybrid schedule, according to WFH Research, which monitors remote work trends by surveying thousands of workers every month. Deborah Lovich, who leads Boston Consulting Group’s work on “people strategy,” sees more employers adopting hybrid work as they see the financial and nonfinancial benefits . “I do think people will come around,” she said.

The outlook for fully remote workers, who currently make up about 10% of all employment, appears more cloudy. Those job openings have been shrinking faster in recent months as the job market has slowed.

Split screen showing someone working in office on the left and someone working from home on the right.

Employers’ push to end remote work and return to office is stalling

The back-to-the-office campaign by many employers has run into resistance from workers. They’ve struck a truce of sorts — hybrid work.

Aug. 3, 2023

Many people working full time from home are in high-paying tech and information industries, which explains why San Francisco and Los Angeles metro areas are No. 1 and 2, respectively, when it comes to the share of all full-time workdays done at home, at 46% and 40% as of November.

At the other end of the pay scale are fully remote workers in administrative and more routine functions, such as customer service representatives at call centers, where many jobs may be further eroded by artificial intelligence.

But even fully remote work has things going for it. For many employers, what may be lost in productivity can at least partly be made up in cost savings from cutting back on office and related expenses. Plus, these companies can hire workers more cheaply anywhere in the world. All told, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University estimated that those savings may average 10% of a company’s operating costs.

“Firms shouldn’t care about productivity, they should care about profitability,” said Bloom, who is part of the WFH Research group.

Whatever the productivity studies may show, Bloom said, what’s happening is intuitive. “Look at their actions,” he said. “This is no longer a pandemic, and millions of firms in a capitalist economy are doing something consistently [in sticking with remote work]. I can only conclude it’s profitable.”

Santa Monica-based TrueCar decided to go fully remote after the pandemic. “It gives us full access to talent,” said Jill Angel, chief people officer at the firm, which operates a digital platform helping consumers shop and price cars.

TrueCar has cut back about two-thirds of its office space and eventually plans to get down to just 4,000 square feet, enough for client meetings and team-building events.

The company currently has about 325 employees across the country. And over the last three years, 48 employees have moved out of California to other states, with Texas and Washington being the most popular destinations.

Workers are happier when they have control and certainty over their work schedules, Angel said, and the firm is betting that over time that will help make it both more productive and more profitable.

“I do know we’re not going back,” she said.

Illustration split in two of a person looking forward, one half in an office and one half at home.

Remote work gave them a reprieve from racism. They don’t want to go back

Many people of color found remote work lessens the racism they face on the job. Now they must decide: Is it worth trying to never return to the office again?

Aug. 8, 2023

Flex Index, which tracks employers’ remote-work practices, and Boston Consulting Group recently teamed up to study the finances of more than 500 public companies. Their key finding: Revenues at fully flexible firms grew on average by 21% from 2020 to 2022 — four times greater than at less-flexible firms.

Rob Sadow, a Flex Index co-founder, expects more such data to emerge highlighting differences in financial results as well as in employee retention rates. He says his company’s research shows smaller and younger firms are more likely to adopt flexible work policies, so as more businesses get started, and more office leases roll off, the share of employers offering remote work should grow.

“In early 2023, 50%-plus of companies were still sitting on the sidelines with no formal policy or specific work-from-home strategy,” he said. “What’s happened through 2023 is that more and more companies decided to put a stake in the ground — and that’s hybrid.”

Still, a lot of bosses remain wary of even partial remote work, fearing it’ll weaken their company’s culture, mentoring traditions and timely decision-making.

“We’re constantly looking at it,” a top executive at a San Diego media firm said of remote work. He didn’t want to be identified, worrying that anything he said publicly could make it harder to change work-from-home policies later. His firm currently requires everyone to come in two days a week, including one set day.

“We felt value in having everyone in the office at least one day a week because it brought younger team members to intermingle and collaborate with seasoned members,” he said.

But a lot of employees want to be 100% remote, he added. “This is one of the most sensitive subject matters I’ve dealt with.”

ROCKWALL, TEXAS OCTOBER 29, 2023 - Jennifer Balek, 39, center, stands in her kitchen preparing dinner while speaking to her mother Tina Bailey, left, her daughter Hannah Kight, 12, right, and son Zach Kight, 15, far-right, on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023 in Rockwall, Texas. Like many Californians, insurance broker Jennifer Balek took advantage of pandemic-induced opportunities to work from home by moving to another state. The 38-year-old Camarillo native settled in Rockwall, a small community outside Dallas, where she and her husband bought a house big enough for their family of eight that they could never afford in Southern California. She also knew Texas has no state income tax. Gas for their vehicles is a lot cheaper. What Balek did not realize, however, was just how drastically different the state laws and regulations are on employment and related issues. And those unrecognized differences can turn out to matter. Balek still works for the same California employer of nearly 20 years, but by moving her residence to another state, she faces the possibility of losing or getting significantly diminished benefits and protections. California is one of the most progressive when it comes to employee rights.

Hidden costs for remote workers moving out of California

California’s progressive employment laws and generous state-mandated benefits are often lost when workers move to red states to find cheaper housing and lower taxes.

Oct. 31, 2023

Teams know best

Right now, it’s pretty much anybody’s guess which of the many possible models will prevail when it comes to balancing management’s desire for an on-site workforce and employees’ desire for more flexibility.

Clearly, a lot of workers like the hybrid model but want about one day more of working from home than bosses prefer, which now averages two days a week, according to WFH Research.

At many firms, the conflict is only heightened because chief executives have dictated rules and norms for the company as a whole, said Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management who has written books on productivity.

“Let the team decide what’s best for the team,” he advised, noting that what’s functional and productive will be different if you’re in IT, customer service, sales or financial analysis.

The headquarters for Zoom is shown Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

Even Zoom is calling employees back to the office

Zoom Video Communications, a one-time darling of the work-from-home era, is calling workers back to the office.

Aug. 7, 2023

“Bosses want accountability and they used to get it by counting hours in the office. Hopefully they realize it’s what results they get. We should be focused on what we want to achieve,” Pozen said. “Let’s figure out the goals and let’s customize the success metrics that would best measure productivity.”

That’s pretty much the playbook at Chicago-based law firm Chapman & Cutler. Sarah Andeen heads the firm’s library and research services for attorneys working in several states. The firm’s basic policy on remote work isn’t a one-size-fits-all but rather is based on the department’s and clients’ needs and expectations.

For Andeen and her two research staffers, it worked out to two to three days on site, with at least one of them in the office each workday to open the library and address any in-person requests from attorneys.

“I think it depends on the person, the work they do and stage of career,” Andeen, 54, said of how best to structure hybrid work.

SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 13, 2022 - - Members of the Boys and Girls Club, with St. Anne School, take a dance class with dancer Tal Barnston, center, with Jacob Jonas The Company, in the courtyard at the Water Garden office complex in Santa Monica on December 13, 2022. Jacob Jonas The Company is one of the tenants at the Water Garden. CBRE brings in musical acts to entertain once a week, offers dance classes and a noon class on how to make floral arrangements as part of office landlords efforts to entice their tenants to stay. The pandemic has made successful programming harder because fewer people come to the office, but its importance has only grown as landlords try to make working in their buildings more appealing than working at home. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

As many work from home, office landlords roll out entertainment to entice tenants

From yoga classes to musical performances, landlords are trying to woo back workers who left office space vacant during the pandemic.

Jan. 29, 2023

She said the older of her two staff librarians is in her 60s, lives in a Chicago suburb and uses the time saved from the 45-minute commute to get in a little more gardening and other personal projects. Andeen’s other librarian is in her late 20s, lives in an apartment in the city and really likes coming in three days a week to the firm’s new downtown office, designed to be more collaborative.

“I know my staff. I know they’re being productive,” Andeen said, adding that her team has clear goals and productivity measurements. “Are we getting research questions answered in a timely manner? Are the bills getting billed, the research cataloged? Is our web page up and operational? Are our attorneys happy? ... I can see the results.”

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PICTURE POSED BY MODEL A man sneezes into a tissue. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 14, 2020. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Danny Crouch pets his dog as he sits in his basement working from home in Arlington, Virginia, on May 25, 2023. The pandemic forced Americans to work from home. And now, more than three years on, employers are struggling to bring them back to the office. A third of employees in the US currently have complete freedom about where they work, compared with just 18 percent in France, according to a recent ADP study of 17 countries. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

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home workers more productive

Don Lee writes economic stories out of Washington, D.C. Since joining the Los Angeles Times in 1992, he has served as the Shanghai bureau chief and in various editing and reporting roles in California. Lee previously worked at the Kansas City Star. He is a native of Seoul, Korea, and graduated from the University of Chicago.

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How to Help Your Remote Workers Be More Productive in 2024

Effective ways to improve efficiency from the home office.

If you're anything like me, you view the start of a new year as the perfect time for quiet reflection, giving you a chance to look back on all you've accomplished and what your goals are for the upcoming year.

For your remote workers, this can be a perfect time to reassess just how productive you've been. According to a report by Future Forum , remote workers who have the ability to control their schedule are 29 percent more productive, leaving the door open to plenty of promise.

Working remotely takes a lot of focus , organization, and excellent time management skills to be successful. And while you may think you have control over those factors, there could be room for improvement . I currently work 4 days per week remotely, which means it's crucial for me to find ways to be just as productive at home as I am in the office.

Here are some effective strategies that can help your workers be more productive in their home offices in 2024 and realize greater success.

Stick to a Schedule When Checking Messages

Checking messages on email, through Slack, and any other messaging service is necessary for productivity. The problem is that frequently checking messages as they come in can quickly cut into productivity time. If you jump to respond each time you get an alert, it is pulling you away from whatever task you were working on.

What I find helpful is to set specific time aside each day that I dedicate to reading and responding to messages. That can be first thing in the morning, after lunch, or even towards the end of the day. Depending on how many messages you receive, you may also need to schedule a couple of 'message response' blocks each day.

Communication Skills Are Paramount

It doesn't matter what field or industry you work in, communication skills are always important. Especially when we're working remotely and often using written communication as our primary tool, knowing how to craft a persuasive email or Slack message is vital for both internal and external communication.

Often, people will find their communication skills improve over time if they are conscious of them and make an effort to practice effective communication daily. But what if you've been trying to do just that, but you don't see much improvement? This is a great opportunity to sign up for a class that focuses on communication. An interpersonal communication skill class is a great example and can open people up to different techniques, tips, and tools.

Create Business Hours

If you work for a company, business hours will most likely be set by the organization. But what if it's your own company? It can be very tempting to work long days, unusual hours, and even weekends. The problem is that if you don't have a consistent routine when it comes to hours, it can hurt your productivity.

I tend to agree with what the experts say that a routine is essential. This means waking up at the same time each morning and having set working hours. Sure, there may be times you need to work outside these hours but you want to try to have as regular of a routine as possible.

Don't forget to also schedule breaks and lunch, just as you would do if you weren't working remotely.

Do You Have the Right Tools and Equipment?

Sometimes it's not about your habits, but rather the tools and equipment you are relying on. If you don't have the right equipment to do your job, then you can't expect to reach your maximum level of productivity. Perhaps 2024 needs to be the year you invest in yourself and your business and upgrade such things as your desktop computer, printer, software, and other essential items.

Make a 2024 wish list and dream big! You don't have to invest in everything right away, but having a list on hand will make it easier to decide on your priorities when you do see an influx of capital.

This post originally appeared at .

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How to Help Your Remote Workers Be More Productive in 2024

The Big Number: 2.7%

By Marie Solis Feb. 16, 2024

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American workers are getting more done. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity increased 2.7 percent in 2023. Over the past two quarters, it has been growing at more than double the rate from 2005 to 2019.

Here’s how it could affect the economy →

Productivity is usually measured as a simple ratio: the total amount of output an economy produces per hour worked by its labor force. When that ratio picks up, it can create a positive cascading effect.

Gains in productivity mean that businesses can make more money per hour, reinvest it in their operations and, at least theoretically, pay workers more.

A more productive business can also sell its goods and services at lower prices, making customers happier, too.

And some economists say that the rise in worker productivity has helped officials at the Federal Reserve pull off what appears to be a “soft landing,” slowing down the economy with high interest rates without tipping it into a recession.

Is all of this too good to be true? Maybe.

Many economic models suggest that workers’ pay should rise roughly in proportion to their productivity — twice the pay for double the daily or hourly production — but jumps in productivity haven’t always resulted in big gains for workers. In some cases, shareholders and executives have seen the biggest financial benefits. And technology that increases productivity may complicate matters more.

Read more about America’s work force:

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Work from Home: 64 Tips for Staying Healthy and Productive

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Using the right equipment — be it a chair, desk, keyboard or monitor — can help have a big impact on how your back feels at the end of the day. And, as you’ll quickly see, working at the kitchen table is a big no-no.

18. If you find the classic desk arrangement quite limiting, know you don’t have to stick to it. Keep ergonomics in mind, and switch between positions often. It helps your mind and body.

19. If you have a laptop, connect it to a keyboard, mouse and monitor for a more formal desktop experience. But do your research before making any purchases.

20. When possible, having a dedicated office space with a door that can be closed.

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Return-to-office mandates just got another vote in their favor: A new study says WFH results in 18% less productivity.

  • A study from economists at MIT and UCLA found productivity dropped when people worked from home.
  • The study observed groups of data-entry workers in India working from home and from the office.
  • People who worked from home saw their productivity fall by 18%, the researchers said.

Insider Today

The debate on workers returning to the office could end up centering on a debate about productivity . 

Some workers argue they're more productive working remotely . But some managers say employees are more productive when they're in an office . And at an extreme, some people even contend that working from home should be looked down upon .

Now, one new study could add some clarity to the competing views: It suggests that people are more productive working from the office, which could be good news for managers and tech companies trying to bring their employees back in . 

In a working paper that's being circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles, observed data-entry workers in Chennai, India, across two groups — those working from the office and those working from home — over test periods of eight weeks.  

The key finding? Those in the work-from-home group were 18% less productive than those working from the office. 

How is "productivity" measured? 

To gather subjects for the study, the researchers posted advertisements for entry-level data jobs in local newspapers, and ultimately observed a total of 235 workers, according to the study. These workers were then divided into two groups that were randomized across skill level and preference for working from home or the office — among other traits — and given identical tasks, resources, and goals. 

The report noted that both groups were also asked to work for approximately 35 hours a week. However, those working from home were given the flexibility to choose when they worked, while those coming into the office were restricted to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. 

For those working from home, the researchers also took low-resolution pictures of the workers every 15 minutes through a camera built into a laptop they provided, to ensure they weren't outsourcing their work. 

The main measure used to gauge productivity in the study was "net typing speed," which the report defined as the number of correct entries typed per minute. The study also measured the "accuracy" of the workers by comparing the ratio of correct data entries to total data entries, along with idle times. 

Why data-entry workers? The report noted they're widespread across India, the job has relatively low skill requirements, it can be easily performed in both remote and office settings, and collecting detailed measures of productivity and output for data-entry workers is a relatively straightforward process that focuses on measures like input per minute, errors, and time spent working.

David Atkin, one of the authors of the study, also told Insider that there is also little to no collaboration between workers in the data entry sector. "Thus, this is a setting where we might think that those working from home would not be disadvantaged compared to those working from the office," he wrote by email.

The bigger question, though, might be how these results can be extrapolated to other jobs, and even industries, where there is more collaboration across people and teams.

Atkin said that the study's estimates around productivity may "underestimate effects in other industries" especially those in which defining, isolating, and measuring productivity may be more challenging. “We don't have reasons to believe that there will not be productivity effects in these settings even if they are harder to measure,” he wrote. 

Working from home can make communication more challenging

Still, one of the reasons remote workers could be less productive than their office counterpoints is because of challenges in communication that arise from virtual work. 

An earlier study of more than 60,000 staff members at Microsoft who transitioned from office work to remote work between December 2019 and June 2020 found that the employees became "more siloed, less dynamic" and weren't able to form as many new connections compared to the pre-pandemic days. While people did form stronger connections with their immediate team members, the study found that they spent an average of 25% less time collaborating across groups. 

These types of communication challenges can be particularly problematic for younger workers. A recent survey found that some Gen Z and millennial workers are struggling to feel included in virtual meetings .

Ultimately, employees appear to be most content when they have flexibility around their schedule. Some of the happiest employees last year were the ones who were working in remote-hybrid roles.  Nevertheless, this new data could bolster the case that some tech execs are making to bring people back into the office. In February, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy issued a mandate requiring corporate employees to spend at least three days a week in the office beginning May 1. And Mark Zuckerberg's Meta has asked most workers to return to the office three days a week.

home workers more productive

Watch: Microsoft's chief brand officer, Kathleen Hall, says the company's employees are its best product testers

home workers more productive

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Gleb Tsipursky Ph.D.

The Truth About Work-From-Home Productivity

Hybrid and fully remote teams can be far more productive than in-person teams..

Posted October 3, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

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  • Most employees prefer hybrid or remote work, but companies are wary of the cost to effectiveness.
  • Work-from-home productivity is generally higher than in the office, research shows, especially on individual tasks.
  • A policy of flexibility helps companies maximize both retention and productivity of employees.

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Is work-from-home productivity higher or lower than in the office? Research shows that hybrid and even fully remote teams can gain a substantial productivity advantage if their leaders stop relying on traditional office-based culture and methods of collaboration . Instead, by adopting best practices for hybrid and remote work, forward-thinking leaders can drastically outcompete in-person teams in productivity.

Work-From-Home Productivity

Alex, the Chief Executive Officer of a 900-employee SaaS (Software as a Service) company, wanted to figure out his future work arrangements. His default plan was an office-centric environment. He feared that if his team didn’t return to the office full time, he would lose out to rivals who could do so and gain productivity benefits by working from the office.

This is not an unusual situation. Indeed, numerous companies are concerned about workplace productivity in remote work. The belief underlying this thought process is that people can’t be truly productive outside of the office: Elon Musk claimed those working remotely are only “pretending to work.”

Alex hired a consultant with expertise in hybrid and remote work, who told the CEO that many employees might leave if forced to come back to the office full time because the large majority of employees prefer fully remote or at least hybrid work arrangements. In fact, data clearly show that workers—especially tech workers like at his company—are more productive working remotely.

External Research on Work-From-Home Productivity

A two-year study published in February 2021 of 3 million employees at 715 U.S. companies, including many from the Fortune 500 list, showed that working from home improved employee productivity by an average of 6 percent.

Another survey of 800 employers found that 94 percent of employers said their employees were just as productive or even more productive while working remotely. And 83 percent of workers said they were happy with remote work arrangements, while only 7 percent wanted to return to an office immediately. Most workers said they wanted a hybrid setup when they do eventually return to their workplaces, splitting their time between home and the office.

Such remote work productivity gains aren’t surprising. Pre-COVID research showed that telework boosted productivity; after all, remote work removes many hassles taking up time for in-office work, such as lengthy daily commutes. Moreover, working from home allows employees much more flexibility to do work tasks at times that work best for their work-life balance, rather than the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. Such flexibility matches research showing we all have different times of day when we are best suited for certain tasks, enabling us to be more productive when we have more flexible schedules.

Some might feel worried that these productivity gains are limited to the context of the pandemic. Fortunately, research shows that after a forced period of work from home, if workers are given the option to keep working from home, those who choose to do so experience even greater productivity gains than in the initial forced period.

An important academic paper from the University of Chicago provides further evidence of why working at home will stick. First, the researchers found that working at home proved a much more positive experience for employers and employees alike than either had anticipated. That led employers to report a willingness to continue work-from-home after the pandemic.

Second, an average worker spent over 14 hours and $600 to support their work-from-home. In turn, companies made large-scale investments in back-end IT facilitating remote work. Some paid for home office equipment for employees. Furthermore, remote work technology improved over this time. Therefore, both workers and companies will be more invested in telework after the pandemic.

Apart from that, non-survey research similarly shows significant productivity gains for remote workers during the pandemic. Moreover, governments plan to invest in improving teleworking infrastructure, making higher productivity gains even more likely.

Academics demonstrated a further increase in productivity in remote work throughout the pandemic. A study from Stanford showed that efficiency for remote work increased from 5 percent greater than in the office in the summer of 2020 to 9 percent greater in May 2022, as companies and employees alike grew more comfortable with work-from-home arrangements.

home workers more productive

A Hybrid-First Model of Work-From-Home Productivity

The next step involved figuring out how to improve worker productivity further for the SaaS company. To better understand what staff needed, the consultant helped the company conduct an internal survey to ascertain work preferences and productivity.

Upon gathering data on the preferred working styles of employees, the consultant discovered that employees expressed a strong desire to work from home. Around 59 percent of employees indicated a preference for hybrid work environments (one to two days per week in the office) and no full-time in-office work, while 32 percent indicated a strong willingness to work at home full-time, and only 19 percent wanted three or more days of in-office work.

After analyzing the results of the internal as well as external data, the consultant advised Alex to implement a hybrid-first approach with one day in the office for most staff and fully-remote options for those who wanted them. A hybrid-first approach proved most compatible with the desires of the vast majority of employees, allowing them to remain productive while retaining them effectively. The consultant concluded that the company should transition to a hybrid-first model in which some work is done from home and some from the office.

Hybrid-first models work even better when leaders adopt best practices for hybrid work. These involve addressing proximity bias , maximizing social capital, and facilitating remote innovation .

Alex and the rest of the management team were initially skeptical of the proposed hybrid-first approach, but after trying it out and seeing months of high employee productivity and retention, they are now believers. Those employees permitted to remain fully remote proved willing to go above and beyond to get the job done. They also swiftly adapted to changes required for their company’s success by working flexible hours to accommodate the shift of most employees to working occasionally in the office. As a result, the hybrid-first work strategy established an environment where employees could effectively manage their tasks while maintaining a good work-life balance.

To best maximize the productivity of their employees, companies must understand where they are most productive. And if they wish to retain them, employers need to appreciate and meet the preferences of their employees. Fortunately, hybrid and fully-remote work options allow the best of both worlds. A hybrid-first model is the best practice for hybrid and remote work, enabling leaders willing to let go of their intuitions and rely on evidence from both academic research, internal and external surveys, and case studies from progressive companies to seize a competitive advantage in the future of work.

Tsipursky, G. (2021). Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. Columbus, OH: Intentional Insights Press.

Alexander, A., De Smet, A., Langstaff, M., & Ravid, D. (2021). What employees are saying about the future of remote work. McKinsey & Company.

Bloom, Nicholas, et al. "Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 130.1 (2015): 165-218.

Chatterjee, S., Chaudhuri, R., & Vrontis, D. (2022). Does remote work flexibility enhance organization performance? Moderating role of organization policy and top management support. Journal of Business Research, 139, 1501-1512.

Donati, S., Viola, G., Toscano, F., & Zappalà, S. (2021). Not all remote workers are similar: technology acceptance, remote work beliefs, and wellbeing of remote workers during the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(22), 12095.

Ferreira, Rafael, et al. "Decision factors for remote work adoption: advantages, disadvantages, driving forces and challenges." Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity 7.1 (2021): 70.

Galanti, T., Guidetti, G., Mazzei, E., Zappalà, S., & Toscano, F. (2021). Work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak: The impact on employees’ remote work productivity, engagement, and stress. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 63(7), e426.

Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S., Suri, S., Sinha, S., Weston, J., ... & Teevan, J. (2022). The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nature human behaviour, 6(1), 43-54.

Gleb Tsipursky Ph.D.

Gleb Tsipursky, Ph.D. , is on the editorial board of the journal Behavior and Social Issues. He is in private practice.

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Working from home is producing economic benefits return-to-office rules would quash

by Leonora Risse, The Conversation

Working from home is producing economic benefits return-to-office rules would quash

More of us have been in paid work this past year than ever before. A big part of that is because more of us have been able to work from home than ever before.

The proportion of Australians in paid work climbed above 64% in May last year, and has stayed there since. At the same time, unemployment has hovered around a half-century low of 4% .

In April last year, female unemployment fell to what is almost certainly an all-time low of 3.3% .

It's working from home—actually, working from anywhere—that has been the game-changer, as the most enduring change to the way we work to have come out of the pandemic .

The jump in working from home

Before the pandemic, in 2019, the share of the workforce who usually work at least partly from home was 25%. Three years on in 2022, it was 36%.

These numbers from the latest Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey show there's also been a shift in who's working from home.

Before the pandemic, a greater share of men than women worked from home. Now it's a greater share of women.

Among both women and men, the biggest jump has been among parents with young children.

The proportion of mothers with children under five working at least partly from home has leapt from 31% to 43%.

Working from home is producing economic benefits return-to-office rules would quash

The working-from-home rate for fathers with children under five has jumped from 29% to 39%.

Which workers, which jobs?

Before the pandemic, managers and professionals were the workers most likely to work from home. They still are, with up to 60% dialing in from the home office for at least part of their work week.

But it's clerical and administrative workers—occupations that are about three-quarters female—who had the biggest jump in working from home. Their pre-pandemic rate of 18% has soared to 42%.

In terms of industries, finance and insurance led the pack before the pandemic and still do, with rates doubling to 85%.

Working from home is now also the norm in information media and telecommunications (74%) and public administration and safety (72%).

In the traditionally male industry of construction, women's working-from-home rates have soared from 34% to 45%.

It's well above the men's rate of 24%, which is largely unchanged.

While this reflects the different types of jobs that men and women do in construction, it also suggests working from home is a way to boost women's involvement, even in this industry.

More workers, better-matched

Working from home is producing economic benefits return-to-office rules would quash

The benefit of working from home for the economy has been fewer obstacles getting in the way of matching jobseekers to employers. Distance and location are no longer the deal-breakers they were.

Better job-matching means less unemployment , and the heightened prospect of finding a good job match encourages jobseekers who in earlier times might have given up.

In finance and insurance—the industry with the biggest and fastest-growing rate of working from home— the proportion of jobs that were vacant fell from 2.5% before the pandemic to just 1.7% by the end of 2023.

Return-to-office mandates would set us back

Making workers return to the office for jobs that can be effectively done from home would unravel the economic benefits that have been achieved.

Fewer people, especially women and parents with young children , would put themselves forward for work. The pool of skills that employers are looking for would shrink. And job-matching in the labor market becomes less efficient.

The result would be more Australians unemployed, and more Australians dropping out of the paid workforce, than if we had continued to embrace working from home.

Working from home still comes with challenges. Workers who are less visible in the office are more likely to be overlooked .

But it has a wider economic benefit we have a chance to hold on to.

The extraordinary transformation of our labor market means it shouldn't be seen as a "favor" to workers, but as a favor to us all.

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The hidden high cost of return-to-office mandates

If you force employees to commute and work in an office every day, you can expect to lose your best employees..

Mike Elgan

Contributing Columnist, Computerworld |

workers / staff / employees / businessmen / corporate cubicles / offices

We all know by now that many business leaders want their employees to work in the office instead of at home. But most don’t understand why.

And we know that many employees want to work from home instead of the office. And most don’t understand why, either.

As a result, we have a standoff at many companies where corporate leadership is imposing return-to-office (RTO) mandates, and employees are resisting.

It’s time for everyone to really understand what’s driving the standoff.

Why employees hate RTO mandates

The conventional wisdom says that the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced companies to embrace full-time, work-from-home (WFH), gave employees a taste of remote work. They liked it. And that stiffened resistance to RTO mandates.

The well-known reason many employees prefer WFH policies is increased schedule flexibility, better work-life balance, and less time spent fighting traffic on the way to and from the office.

But there’s another factor at play: money.

Prices vary by region. But in general, since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the cost of living has risen dramatically for employees: annual mortgage payments have grown by more than $3,500; the price of a car has risen by about $10,000; and the cost for groceries has increased by around 10%.

The direct additional cost of working in an office for employees is higher, too: Gasoline costs more than it did in 2019; annual child-care costs have increased by more than $1,000. And inflexible RTO policies requiring normal business hours impose even more child-care costs, as arrangements often have to be made for kids to be picked up and dropped off at school.

To put that into perspective, one report notes that it costs employees the equivalent of a month’s grocery bill to return to the office .

RTO mandates don’t represent a return to normal. They represent the imposition of new high costs for employees already feeling the pain of inflation. (Even though it has subsided somewhat, prices remain stubbornly high.)

Not only are employees required to sacrifice flexibility, work-life balance, and valuable time. They’re now expected to pay for the privilege.

Here’s another point to consider. While flexibility and work-life balance are somewhat squishy and vague, the literal financial costs to employees are directly measurable in dollars.

Why many business leaders want RTO mandates

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business studied the reasons for, and impacts of, RTO requirements. They looked at S&P 500 companies with RTO mandates and tested the three major justifications for those mandates: 1) higher productivity; 2) better company performance; and 3) company values.

The researchers also collected job satisfaction and other data from Glassdoor to see how RTO mandates affect both employees and managers.

The results were eye-opening.

The researchers found that companies with RTO policies were more likely to have had poor prior stock performance, and more likely to be led by “male and powerful CEOs” seeking to “grab power back from employees through RTO.”

RTO polices were also found to be used to scapegoat employees working from home for bad company performance.

Counterintuitively, they found that tech companies are more likely to demand RTO. Very intuitively, they found fewer RTO mandates at companies with high competition and places with longer commute times.

The results weren’t one-sided. Many employees, they found, agree with RTO mandates and feel that living and working in separate places improved work-life balance.

Interestingly and unusually, the researchers looked at the impact of RTO mandates on companies’ financial performance. They pointed out that improving employee productivity is a major justification for RTO policies, while measurably lower employee satisfaction is known to reduce productivity. In a nutshell, they found that RTO mandates don’t significantly affect productivity or company financial performance in either direction.

Why RTO mandates are risky business

The best data to date shows that the reasons and justifications for RTO mandates are largely misguided. Such mandates do not generally lead to higher productivity, better performance or improved corporate values in the short term.

It also shows that the reasons and justifications for WFH are largely real and serious. Remote work does improve schedule flexibility and work-life balance, and it saves employees a lot of time and money.

In other words: Forcing employees to work in an office doesn’t benefit companies, but does harm the lives of employees — at least in the short term.

More to the point: Most companies cannot show actual monetary benefits from RTO mandates. But most employees can show actual and significant monetary costs from RTO mandates.

In essence, these kinds of mandates represent a transfer of wealth from employees that their employers don’t even benefit from.

Here’s what’s missing from the calculation: The long-term impact of RTO mandates could be catastrophic for businesses.

The thing you need to know is that employees unhappy with RTO mandates aren’t likely to tell you. In a recent survey , more than a third (38%) of employees believe it’s a “red flag” to complain about RTO policies. And they’re right: More than half of managers (56%) agree.

You’ll find out they were unhappy when they quit and go to work for your more flexible competitor. The result: a slow bleeding of high-performing employees, millennials and women.

In other words, to impose RTO is to implement a policy of gradually reduced overall employee performance, increased difficulty in meeting gender inclusion goals and undermined efforts to groom the next generation of corporate leaders.  

So proceed with caution. The benefits of RTO mandates are probably nonexistent. The costs are likely to grow over time.

  • Remote Work
  • IT Management
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Technology Industry

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.

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