In the modern world, remote work is becoming more common. Our current range of communication is practically infinite thanks to the internet and mobile devices, and with cloud storage and increasingly digital roles in the mix, it’s possible for almost anyone to have occasional work-from-home days. The only problem is the lingering fear that “working from home” is just an excuse to slack off.
Time tracking software helps put some of these fears to rest, with its ability to track employee progress at a distance, but the real selling point is the increasing amount of evidence that working from home actually makes employees more productive. Even to remote working proponents, this information is somewhat suspect, so what could be responsible for this alleged increase in productivity?
First, let’s take a look at the main ways productivity could be lost in a remote working environment:
Laziness. First and foremost, in a home environment, people tend to be at their laziest. It’s easy to stay in bed too long when your commute is literally a walk down the stairs.
Distractions. The distractions a remote worker faces vary in nature and intensity. Some workers may deal with the temptation of watching Netflix on the couch, while others might be distracted by children or family needs.
Accountability. In a remote work setup, there’s no one looking over your shoulder. There are no coworkers regulating your behavior. There’s much less accountability, which could affect performance.
Why Productivity Still Remains
So why, in the face of these potential obstacles, does productivity seem to increase when people work from home?
1. Optimal hour distribution. It’s not just an old wives’ tale and it’s not just an illusion that some people are morning people, while others are afternoon, evening, or night people. It’s a scientifically backed reality that everyone has different “optimal” times to focus and work. When you allow people to work from home, you give them more flexibility to work during the hours that they find to be most natural, and therefore most productive. All your morning people can work in the morning, while your afternoon people work in the afternoon, and so on. This optimizes your distribution of working hours.
2. Well-timed distractions. It’s true that working from home is full of distractions, but some of these distractions are a good thing, and others are just better-timed versions of distractions that would be there anyway. For example, a working parent may worry about the health of their child throughout the day, affecting their performance, but at home, a few-minute check-in could instantly put those fears to rest. Many Americans are forced to miss work for health-related reasons, but working from home makes this much easier to manage. Plus, a distraction like a quick snack in the kitchen could help relieve stress and keep a worker on task longer (if used responsibly).
3. Proving a point. Working from home is a valuable benefit, and most employees realize they’re going to be watched. They’re incentivized to work extra hard while working from home to prove they’re capable of it, and also to protect that benefit from being taken away from them. If this is the case, the productivity boost in working from home only exists to avoid being cited for slacking off.
4. Communication optimization. One of the main advantages of having your employees together in an office is also one of the biggest drawbacks. In an office, people can talk to each other throughout the day quite easily, popping into each other’s offices and generally chatting in the open atmosphere. While this can be socially stimulating and effective for resolving issues between people quickly, it can also be a massive distraction. When you have more people working from home, you have fewer communication distractions, and everyone is forced to restrict their conversations to what’s necessary to keep things moving. This could save each worker hours of time every week.
5. Personal environments. People are more comfortable in environments they choose. Whether you construct and decorate a home office or travel out to your favorite coffee shop, working in your happy place can have a massive boost for your productivity.
6. Study flaws. Flaws are common in scientific studies, and some people have pointed out there are a number of flaws in most remote work productivity surveys. For example, one of the most well-known studies (cited earlier in this article) is a review of work performance for call center employees in China. Not only does this restrict the sample population to Chinese workers, it also restricts it based on job duties. This information, therefore, can’t be applied to, say, accountants in the United States.
7. Limited evidence. Finally, remember that the evidence we have in favor of remote work as a tool to increase productivity is limited. There have only been a handful of studies (and as we pointed out, those may be flawed) to demonstrate productivity changes on any significant scale. We need to dig deeper and prod into more environments before we’re able to reach a final, inarguable conclusion.
It’s hard to say what, exactly, is responsible for the counter-intuitive increase in productivity in a home environment, but it’s likely a combination of factors working together. We need to draw more evidence, on a wider scale, before we can reach any definitive conclusions.
In the meantime, we can take the information we have and start optimizing our workplaces further for remote working possibilities. The best way to gauge your employees’ productivity changes is to do so in your own structure, with your own tools—so give it a shot, and see what kind of difference it can make!
This article was written by Larry Alton from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.