Remote working full-time could lead to reduced productivity, new study suggests

This is an image of a woman working from her home. Her computer is on a table filled with clutter. This imaged is stylised with a rainbow prism effect.

Proponents of home working often suggest that productivity levels remain the same – if not increase – as if employees are in the office. However, new data suggests that those working remotely full-time are less productive.

The report from WFH Research and published by Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy and Research found that employees who work remotely full-time are thought to be up to 20 per cent less productive.

Using data and insights from various research projects throughout the world, the paper highlight little to no change in productivity for hybrid workers who mix remote working with time in the office.

According to the report, the loss in productivity in remote employees comes from communication difficulties, lack of mentorship opportunities, cultural barriers and issues with self-motivation.

While the data could be considered a blow for remote work advocates, the authors note that fully remote work is still a popular choice for firms, as the policy generates significant cost reductions from space savings and promotes global hiring.

The debate around hybrid and flexible work is a fractured one, with many employees preferring some sort of flexibility in where they work, while bosses at Meta, Salesforce and Goldman Sachs have called everyone back in the office since the COVID-19 pandemic.

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How remote working benefits the LGBTQ+ community

Some of the benefits that remote and hybrid working models bring to people include a better work-life balance and less money and time spent on commuting. For LGBTQ+ colleagues as well as other groups like those living with neurodiversity or other disabilities, remote working also offers up an added layer of psychological safety and accessibility.

For Lucy Straker, a campaigns manager at the road safety charity Brake, remote working suits her personality and family setup.

“I have bursts of productivity,” she tells PinkNews. “Being able to capitalise on those bursts when they happen means I get much more things done and am more efficient with my time.”

As a married queer woman with two kids, Straker sees inclusivity when she sees an employer that offers remote and flexible working options. 

“If I see an employer is willing to understand my needs, my working style and then adapt the working structure around that, I know that they are an inclusive and empathetic employer.”

She continues: “I do think that having my working style just how I like it contributes to me being more confident about all of myself, including my sexual orientation.”

The future of work location patterns

While the report from WFH Research does suggest that those working remotely full-time may be less productive, there is no indication that life will revert back to the pre-pandemic norm of commuting daily to a central location.

On the contrary, the report suggests that as technology continues to advance, so will the prevalence of remote working. It is likely that 30 to 40 per cent of working days will be done from home in 10 to 20 years. This is a trend that has been growing for decades, with the pandemic further catapulting many employees into some sort of remote work pattern. 

The report also says that the pandemic “also jumpstarted a surge in research and development into new hardware and software products to support working from home.”

While remote and flexible working options continue to be considered the norm (and a legal requirement in the UK) and technology advances to ease issues that distances can cause, not all employers are buying in. This is a point that frustrates many, including Straker.

“If remote working is not offered by an employer to me it suggests an inflexibility and a need for everyone to appear or do the same.”

“Accessibility and equity are about options,” she concludes. “Helping people select what works for them gets the best out of them.”