Source: Business Insider
Working remotely has its advantages, but there's growing evidence to support what many managers have long suspected: Fully remote workers are less productive.
A July working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that studied data-entry workers in India found that workers randomly assigned to work from home were 18% less productive than those in the office. A recent analysis of multiple studies by Stanford economist Nick Bloom, a leading remote-work expert, found that fully remote workers were 10% to 20% less productive than their in-office counterparts. These findings come as US labor productivity — as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — has slowed in recent quarters.
The research supports anecdotes from individual companies. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, said earlier this year that early-career engineers tended to perform better when they're in person at least three days a week, while Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said that remote employees are less productive.
To be sure, many people might be more productive at home. But the research has found, on average, those working in the office at least some of the time are more productive. It strengthens the rationale for calling employees back to the office, as Salesforce and Meta have done. Even Zoom, which is synonymous with remote work, recently called some employees back to the office for at least two days a week.
Going to the office can free you from 'home distractions'
It's not just researchers and bosses who are coming to these conclusions. Some individuals are choosing to return to the office.
Take Jeff Moriarty, a 44-year-old marketing professional in the Chicago area. He told Insider that his company allowed him to continue working remotely even as pandemic restrictions eased. Though he lives only half an hour from his office, he said that until June last year, he worked from home five days a week.
But then he decided to make a change.
"While working from home was great from a freedom perspective, I just didn't feel productive enough," he said. "I enjoy brainstorming ideas in person. I enjoy being able to have my entire focus on my job. I found that the best way to succeed at my position and to take our company to the next level was coming into the office."
Today, Moriarty said, he goes into the office five days a week. Working remotely, he's said, meant dealing with too many "home distractions."
"Before, there was the TV in the background. My wife worked from home as well, and just the urge to do chores," he said, adding: "I enjoy having a separate home and work life. Working from home blended them together too much."
Kate Ecke, 34, is a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey. In August 2020, she began providing telehealth therapy, but she said she grew frustrated over time.
"I found it hard to concentrate in sessions and did not feel like I was connecting with my clients the way that I wanted to," she told Insider.
Ecke said her husband built her a small office in her mom's basement, but that didn't solve the problem. In February, she began renting an office space and seeing clients in person.
While she's thankful that telehealth has provided greater access to mental health care, she said working in person had been better for her business and mental health. She doesn't need to plan sessions as much as she used to and is less likely to procrastinate her after-session note-taking, she said. Given she now has more work-home separation, she said it's also been easier to decompress after difficult conversations with clients.
"When I was working from home, I would log off and then have to immediately switch into mom/wife mode," she said, adding: "I'm grateful that I have this choice because it makes me a better therapist."
Hybrid work could be a 'win-win'
While there are high-profile examples of companies requiring staff back at the office, roughly 25% of US working days were remote as of July, and there are signs that this figure is stabilizing.
This stat points to a third option. While fully in-person workers may be more productive than their fully remote colleagues, the hybrid model, where workers spend, say, three days a week in the office, maybe the best of both worlds.
Last month, Raj Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and a remote-work expert, told Insider he was familiar with two studies on hybrid-work productivity. His research found that employees who worked in person 25% of the time were the most productive, he said, more than employees who worked more or fewer days in person.
Stanford's Bloom, meanwhile, found that hybrid work had a "flat or even slightly positive" effect on worker productivity compared with in-office work. It also improved employee recruitment and retention — and was generally less expensive for businesses, the research found.
Bloom recently estimated 60% of Americans worked fully in person, 30% worked in person between one and four days per week, and 10% worked fully remotely. In March, Bloom predicted that in the long run, as remote work models and technologies improved, roughly 40% of jobs would be in person, 50% would be hybrid, and the fully remote contingent would stay at 10%.
"Hybrid, if it's well organized, I think it's a win-win," Bloom previously told Insider.