Remote working – does it make us more or less productive?

  • Working remotely is limiting valuable relationships at work, according to a new report.
  • It may even be stunting some people’s career development.
  • Hybrid models of work may be the future for many organizations, but they will have to work hard to create a healthy culture.

Getting back into the office might be the best thing for many people, their employers and for productivity, according to ADP Research, a US-based labour market analyst.

Its report, On-site, Remote or Hybrid: Employee Sentiment on the Workplace, is based on data from 9,000 employees in the US and concludes that: “On the whole, employees working on-site enjoy crucial advantages over their remote counterparts.”

It’s good to talk

Most of those advantages come from increased social interaction, clearer boundaries between home and work, and even improved career opportunities.

More spontaneous conversations, stronger feelings of connection and receiving constructive feedback are all areas where on-site workers gave more positive responses than those who work at home.

an infographic showing stats on how home working helps colleagues connect more
On-site working can allow for stronger feelings of connection.
Image: ADP Research

Spontaneous communication

Being on-site makes it more likely that you’ll have ad hoc conversations with co-workers – 77% of on-site workers compared with 60% of remote workers told ADP that was the case for them.

Of that 60%, men working remotely were more likely to have spontaneous catch-up chats than women, only 55% of whom said their working week was likely to include unplanned conversations.

Longer working day

If you’ve been working from home a lot in recent months, you may have noticed your day is getting longer. Remote employees have, on average, a longer working day – an hour longer, according to ADP.

For many, home-schooling and childcare responsibilities may also have led to disruption during regular business hours, and a need to catch up on work in the evening. “Parents returning to on-site work can look forward to a more focused and shorter workday,” ADP says in its report.

an infogrpahic graphic showing how covid affected the length of the working day
For many COVID-19 led to disruption during regular business hours.
Image: ADP Research

A hybrid future?

As COVID restrictions have begun to ease in many parts of the world, some companies, such as Facebook, have decided to make remote working available as a permanent fixture. Others are adopting a hybrid model, where attendance in an office is expected, but not every day.

A recent study of more than 30,000 US employees claimed that one day per week spent working from home could boost productivity by 4.8%. Time spent working rather than commuting to work was largely responsible for that estimate.

The ADP report also favours the hybrid model, saying: “Given the upsides and downsides of on-site work, a ‘hybrid’ option – working part on-site and part remote – may actually provide workers with most advantageous characteristics of both on-site and remote working.”

In addition to the flexibility hybrid working offers employees, there could be some important career development benefits, too. Some 67% of hybrid workers feel more visible and that their growth is being supported by their manager. By comparison, 49% of on-site workers feel that way. Similarly, 72% of hybrid workers said they received constructive feedback about their work, compared to 57% for on-site employees.

an infographic showing the benefits of hybrid working
There could be some important career development benefits to hybrid working.
Image: ADP Research

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 examined the hybrid working model. It found that 78% of business leaders were anticipating some negative fall-out on productivity from remote working during the pandemic.

But the pandemic also demonstrated to many businesses the resilience of their office workers and the success of pivoting to a hybrid model, the report says. It also stresses the need to maintain a healthy corporate culture in the face of all this change.

“Ensuring employee well-being is among the key measures undertaken by business leaders looking to effectively shift to remote work,” the report’s authors write. “In particular, 34% of leaders report that they are taking steps to create a sense of community among employees online and looking to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.”


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