Remote work and the implications of continuing the process, including its potential impact on employee performance, are widely discussed. However, there is no right answer, and it is not one-size-fits-all.
The future of work includes flexibility, employee experience, agility, and the responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI)—these significant shifts impact where and how employees work. With an increase in remote work options, we have seen positive trends in work-life balance, employee empowerment, inclusivity, and an increase in diverse talent. These factors are also known to increase employee productivity and retention. According to BCG, a considerable population of employees are ready to leave their jobs if they find their flexible work arrangements unsatisfactory. Based on their survey, approximately 90% of women, caregivers, individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, and those with disabilities, deem flexible work options as crucial in determining whether they will continue or resign from their current employment.
Remote work productivity is subject to debate due to various factors that must be considered. Some suggest remote work can increase productivity due to a flexible schedule, no commute, and fewer interruptions. While many employees thrive in a remote work environment, some find it challenging due to the discipline it demands.
Remote work was on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A July 2023 report from Stanford University found that working remotely has doubled every 15 years. Then, when the pandemic occurred, although devastating, it provided a new perspective for those previously constrained, forced to relocate, or live in less favorable locations to work for a specific company and advance their career. Worldwide ERC states that around 56 million Americans moved to new residences between December 2021 to February 2023 due to COVID-19-related shutdowns and the surge in remote work and online education. With such a huge increase in their number over the past few years, this begs the question: do employees working remotely demonstrate productivity?
Taking a deeper look into the study by Standord University, researchers shared that remote work employees’ productivity differs depending on perceptions—the nature of the research and the conditions under which it was conducted. The report revealed that workers believed productivity was higher at home (approximately 7% higher), while managers perceived it lower (around 3.5% lower). Another example, according to a poll by the video presentation applications mmhmm, 43% prefer office work and 42% favor working from home for peak productivity. Moreover, 51% of employees stated that working asynchronously or having the flexibility to set their schedules contributed positively to their productivity. Perceptions aside, the Stanford analysis found a 10% to 20% reduction in productivity across various studies.
The bottom line is today’s company culture is crucial. Ensuring work-life balance and putting the employees in the driver’s seat are the best ways to retain and increase productivity because they will feel valued and empowered. In a 2022 Microsoft employee engagement survey, 92% of employees say they believe the company values flexibility and allows them to work in a way that works best for them. An even higher percentage (93%) are confident in their ability to work together as a team, regardless of location. People have different preferences—some individuals opt for a hybrid approach, while others choose either remote or in-person work exclusively.
Regardless of the work setup, company leaders and human resources (HR) or human capital management (HRM) executives should ensure that they can still make a lasting impact on employee performance. One measure involves establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) that assess innovation, program, project, and product success—the output, not the physical location. Another crucial step is developing a strategy that includes all future work options, such as in-person, hybrid, and remote choices. Employees tend to be more productive if there is a level of empowerment that allows them to decide where to do their best work.
Planning in person events makes a difference. Leaders who bring new hires and internal transfers, new to the team, on-site for several days should see an uptick in productivity post-gathering. In-person team or company-wide gatherings 1-4 times per year provide employees an opportunity to reset and socialize. Moreover, managers should bring teams together for major program and project kick-offs. When onsite in person, people being present makes a difference. Discourage using Teams or Zoom when employees are in the general vicinity. I have seen companies spew the importance of in-person just to fly employees into a specific location and have people take meetings from their desks or in a different on-site building-conference room, defeating the purpose of in-person interaction.
Having organizations foster all work options is critical and foregoes having to decide which is best. There is no right or wrong answer to this challenge; it should be considered a new way of working and requires future-forward ways of thinking, just as we do with emerging technologies.
About the guest author:
Dr. Malika Viltz-Emerson is a Senior Global Human Resource Leader at Microsoft. She has over 20 years of experience in human capital management. Her mission is to identify and address the real-world challenges and opportunities for employees and the company, and design and implement optimal solutions that leverage the latest tools, technologies, and processes.
People have been working from home even before the pandemic, but their number significantly increased when the health crisis led to lockdowns and travel restrictions. Companies were forced to send their employees home to work remotely to comply with social distancing measures and keep the workforce healthy. Statista shows that before the pandemic, only 17% of US employees worked remotely for five days or more weekly. However, the number grew to 44% during the outbreak in 2020.
When the pandemic subsided and governments eased travel restrictions, some companies asked their workforce to return to the office while others offered the hybrid set-up. However, most employees still prefer remote work.
A poll conducted by Pew Research Center with 5,889 workers in America in January 2022 found that 61% of those who work from home said they avoid going to work by choice and 38% claim their office is closed. It represents a shift from October 2020, when 64% of people worked from home because their office was closed and 36% did so voluntarily.
In spite of that, 50% of leaders in information worker roles want to pursue getting employees back to the office full-time next year, based on Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022 report. Still, 52% of respondents say they highly consider becoming remote or hybrid in the year ahead and 80% claim that since remote or hybrid work arrangements were implemented, their productivity has increased.
How Remote Workers Can Be More Productive
According to the popular job site Flexjobs, one of the benefits of working from home is it increases “productivity and performance” as employees encounter fewer interruptions, have a quieter work environment, and have increased workplace comfort, resulting in more focused time.
In a research conducted in Latin America, they explored the relationship between remote work, work stress, and work-life during pandemic times. Researchers found out that by having flexible work schedules, the employees’ engagement and productivity levels increased because they could work at their most productive time. Privacy also plays a big role in employees’ efficiency. However, the productivity level is negatively affected when the worker is constantly interrupted by children or adults that need assistance.
A case study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine investigated the impact of family-work conflict, social isolation, distracting environment, job autonomy, and self-leadership on employees’ productiveness, work engagement, and stress experienced when working from home during the pandemic. The authors discovered that excellent self-leadership skills and autonomy positively impact the time assessment in a WFH scenario.
Results from a qualitative study by Danielle Tinneveld of Radboud University also show that productivity tracking facilitates the identification of process bottlenecks. The affected staff gets less anxious and annoyed when these difficulties are resolved, and overall production efficiency improves.
How Employees Can Track Their Productivity at Home
On a remote workday, people have to manage work and non-work-related tasks. To be productive, they have to master the art of time planning. Effective time management involves planning each activity in a time frame, considering priorities such as urgent work tasks and eating breaks. Individuals should fit their activities into 16 hours to get 8 hours of sleep each day to achieve great productivity. By monitoring the duration of their tasks, they can observe which actions can be improved.
To see if their time management strategy is effective, remote workers can use key performance indicators (KPIs). Some KPIs they can consider are:
- % To do list tasks achieved as planned
- % Time spent working
- % Time spent walking
- % Time spent relaxing
- % Time spent reading (non-work)
- % Time spent preparing food
- % Time spent eating
- % Time spent doing housework
By monitoring the percentage of tasks performed as planned, individuals can see if they reached their target or not. By knowing the percentage of time spent working, people have insights into the free time left for non-work-related tasks, such as going on a walk, relaxing, cooking, eating, and other housework activities (washing clothes and dishes, drying clothes, cleaning floors).
It’s a different story for employees whose companies have return-to-office schemes. Their organizations should rethink their performance management system to consider the new ways of working that employees gained during the pandemic. Evaluating the relevance of KPIs has become important now more than ever. To better understand KPIs, its nature, characteristics, and implementation, enroll now to The KPI Institute’s Certified KPI Professional and Practitioner course.
Image Source: Jelena Danilovic | Canva
The topic of work-life balance is at the front of the minds of many companies and employees. In today’s fast-paced culture, human resource professionals are looking for ways to improve their firms’ bottom lines, boost employee morale, retain people with vital company expertise, and keep up with workplace changes.
Pandemics continue to wreak havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods across the world. While most talks center on the fear of contracting the disease, living in houses, overcrowded nursing homes, and business closures of all kinds, the crisis has also produced some positive outcomes. Reduced vehicle traffic and traffic accidents, decreased levels of air pollution, which must contribute to lower heart attack rates, and a renewing atmosphere could be considered the “silver lining” during these times.
The pandemic became a bridge for community action, family communication, behavior, sanitation, cleanliness, and online and distance education to happen. It is a blessing to be able to breathe clean air and drink pure water. It is now up to people to live a life considerate of all the gifts that nature has bestowed upon them. This kind and sensitive way of life will give you hope for a healthy and stress-free life.
Does work from home raise productivity?
“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,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO wrote. He has also said that he expects about half of Facebook’s employees to be fully remote within the next decade.
According to a Stanford study of 16,000 workers done over nine months, working from home enhances productivity by 13%. Workers in the same research reported higher job satisfaction and a 50% reduction in attrition rates.
Whether they are a parent, carers, or pet owners, today’s remote employees must juggle a multitude of duties while working from home. Many employees have struggled to reconcile the obligations of their business with the needs of their families or households. This is why the concept of work-life balance is often tossed around. Employers, on the other hand, have acknowledged that each employee is unique. To ensure self-managed and independent personnel, several firms choose to offer personality-like assessments in the workplace.
Work-life balance is not a new notion in human resource research. It would continue to be studied in a variety of ways. This only makes sense because work-life balance has an 8.3 percent impact on job satisfaction and a 4.4 percent impact on employee retention.
Useful statistics for both employer and employee
Commuting saves remote employees an average of 40 minutes every day.
Fewer real estate expenditures, lower absenteeism and turnover, and greater catastrophe readiness are the key savings for firms.
Since 2020, people have been meeting by video calls 50 percent more since COVID-19.
Nearly 70% of full-time workers are working from home during COVID-19.
After COVID-19, 92 percent of those polled intend to work from home at least one day per week, and 80 percent expect to work from home at least three days per week.
23 percent of those polled said they would take a 10% pay cut to work from home full-time.
Being at home during COVID-19 saves people on average close to $500 each month. As a result, you’ll save around $6000 every year.
Only 20-25 percent of businesses cover some or all of home office equipment and furniture costs.
After COVID-19, 81 percent of respondents expect their employer will continue to promote remote work.
Compared to those who did not, 59 percent of respondents indicated they would prefer to work for a company that offered remote work.
Source: Workplace Global Analytics