Does Remote Work Increase Productivity? Here’s What Science Says

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By Jacob Maslow

Remote work became the new normal in just a few years, with employees expecting greater flexibility. Opinions differ regarding how productive remote employees are, but what does the science say?

Remote Work Makes for Happier and More Productive Employees

A Future Forum report on employee sentiment shows that those with flexibility report 29% higher productivity and 53% more focus. They also report that those working remotely or in hybrid positions feel more connected with their direct managers, immediate teams, and company values, leading to better company culture.

The results from 2,188 people in 16 countries surveyed for the Buffer 2022 State of Remote Work Report showed that 97% would recommend working from home to others. They would also want to continue working remotely for the rest of their careers, at least some of the time.

Research into remote work increased after the pandemic, but even before then, peer reviews showed 50% lower attrition rates and 13% performance increases. Since then, studies have continued to debunk outdated ideas about remote work, like low productivity and less collaboration.

Quoting David Powell, President of Prodoscore, in this article from Forbes, “Our data evaluations showed that a highly-effective employee remains productive whether working in the office or remotely. Those that slack in the office will slack from home. We used over 105 million data points from 30,000 U.S.-based users and found a 5% increase in workers working from home productivity.”

Interestingly, the average remote worker saves an hour of daily commute travel time alone. Research from the University of Chicago shows that workers use 35% of the time saved on commuting and other commute-related tasks on work-related tasks.

Moreover, this Harvard University study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research finds a significant increase in the time remote employees work compared to their in-office counterparts. They evaluated knowledge workers in 16 large global cities, finding that these people increased their average work hours by 48.5 minutes or 8.2%.

Additionally, people have learned to work even better remotely than at the beginning of lockdowns. Stanford researchers have continued to compare productivity in a longitudinal study. They show that in the summer of 2020, remote workers worked 5% more efficiently than office-based ones. By the summer of 2022, the number had improved to 9%.

More Reasons for Improved Productivity in Remote Employees

Besides saving on commute time, remote workers have fewer distractions from their bosses, co-worker, etc., than those working at physical locations. In addition, remote collaborations rely on asynchronous communication, meaning fewer interruptions and workflow disruptions during work time.

Most people are not as productive in the office as their bosses believe. Research from the UK shows that the average person is only productive for 36% of their time in the office. The 1,989 respondents had to select the activities that detracted from their productivity. Social media came out top of the potential distractions, followed by reading news websites, discussing out-of-work activities with fellow workers, and even searching for another position.

Remote work and its greater flexibility also encourage increased productivity in another way. It allows employees to work on tasks during the times that work best with their energy levels instead of being forced to work 9-5.

Effective collaborations are essential to a productive workplace in both in-office and remote environments. Ergotron performed a study on the effectiveness of collaboration in remote work, finding that 78% of remote employees feel they work better with employees on solving problems and completing tasks than before.

Leaders Fear Lost Productivity

On the other hand, the latest study by Microsoft showed 85% of leaders feel that remote work makes it challenging for them to have confidence in their employee productivity. Of these, 49% say they don’t trust that employees do their best.

Microsoft’s researchers have named the lack of trust “productivity paranoia.” The name derives from employers’ feeling that employees are not working hard enough, leading to lost productivity, even though evidence shows employees working more hours with increased productivity metrics.

Another report by Citrix reiterates the sentiments of those business leaders in the Microsoft study. Of the 900 business readers approached for the global survey, half indicated they felt employees didn’t work as hard when not in the office and 48% installed monitoring devices to ensure their employees worked.

However, two-way trust is essential, and the study shows that across all sectors, fewer than half of employees (49%) feel they can trust their employer to treat them fairly, honestly, with respect, and with transparency. Trust falls to 42% for remote workers but rises to 57% for hybrid workers and 79% for tech employees. The high number in the tech sector indicates that it has successfully embraced effective flexibility management.

Assessing Remote Work

Companies are still struggling to make remote performance evaluations since most employees still rely on what they see – mainly based on which employees come early and leave late.

Therefore, those remote workers who put in the hard work and long hours may still be missing out on wage increases, promotions, and recognition of their performance. Therefore, the time has come for leaders to address issues of bias that prevent them from seeing the positive performances of people working remotely. The way ahead lies in the frequent measurement of deliverables and trust in the data. It also proves that those who have long called for the end of the annual performance review were right.

Rather than relying on feeling and hours, employers should have measurable criteria to assess employee productivity. This can be done by ensuring employees set SMART goals that link back to the company’s mission and strategy and tracking their progress. Additionally, leaders should check in regularly with their teams to understand if they are getting the right support, resources, knowledge, and environment for them to succeed.

SWOT Analysis of Remote Work

Remote work offers a variety of potential benefits, but it also has drawbacks. To assess whether remote work suits your organization, you should conduct a SWOT analysis to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Strengths: Remote work increases productivity as employees are more energized and have fewer distractions. Additionally, remote teams can often be more creative in problem-solving due to increased collaboration enabled by digital communication tools.

Weaknesses: One downside is that remote workers can miss important cultural conversations in the office or informal colleague meetings. Enterprises may also find it challenging to monitor performance since they cannot always observe their employees.

Opportunities: Remote work opens up many opportunities for employers to hire from a wider talent pool. It also offers a way to reduce costs associated with office space and provides employees with more flexibility.

Threats: Employers must be careful about maintaining an acceptable level of data security when working remotely and ensuring that employees do not become too isolated and unmotivated, which can lead to reduced productivity. Additionally, organizations must ensure compliance with relevant labor laws or regulations when managing remote teams.

Tips for Increasing Productivity

To increase the productivity of remote workers, leaders should focus on fostering trust and creating a positive work environment. They should also enable employees to find balance and stay motivated. Here are some tips that can help:

1. Offer flexibility in hours and expectations

2. Encourage communication among team members

3. Enable access to technical support and resources

4. Foster collaboration through virtual meetings

5. Set clear goals and expectations

6. Provide feedback regularly

7. Leverage performance tracking tools

8. Focus on employee health and wellbeing

Final Take

Both employers and employees can reap the benefits of remote work. Studies continue to show that remote work increases productivity, benefiting companies. For employees, it improves their mental health and encourages a more active lifestyle.

However, over 50% of remote workers put in the extra time saved from their commute into getting work tasks done, but they still feel pressure to prove their productivity. Moreover, the lack of organizational communication means that 49% felt burnout in this McKinsey & Co. Future of Remote Work Report from 2021.

Science proves that remote work does increase productivity. Therefore, organizations must continue encouraging remote work productivity by setting clear expectations and measuring data correctly. These moves will ensure they retain their capable workforce, helping them meet the current competitive demands of their industries.


How can organizations make sure their remote workers are productive?

Organizations should set clear expectations and measure data accurately to ensure their remote workers remain productive. They should use the frequent measurement of deliverables, build two-way trust, and promote a sense of belonging within the team. This will help them retain their capable workforce and meet the competitive demands of their industries.

How does remote work affect productivity?

Remote work has been proven to increase productivity in both in-office and remote environments, according to several studies, including those by Ergotron, Microsoft, and Citrix. In most cases, employees put in extra time beyond the hours saved from commuting to complete more tasks; however, they still feel pressure to prove their productivity. Additionally, a lack of organizational communication can lead to burnout among some employees.

How can employers ensure fairness for remote workers?

Employers should assess remote work fairly and eliminate bias from performance reviews by focusing on measurable results. They should also strive to build a culture of trust and belonging in which everyone feels included, valued, and respected regardless of work location. This will help ensure all remote workers are treated fairly and given the recognition they deserve for their hard work.

How can remote workers improve their performance?

Remote workers should prioritize communication, stay organized, and take regular breaks. They should also set realistic goals that are mindful of their time available for work. Additionally, they should focus on self-care to maintain a healthy work/life balance. All these steps will help remote workers improve their performance and succeed in their careers.

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