Jachimma Anikwe wonders whether remote work will improve productivity and goes on to provide valuable insights from literature and studies.
What do Steve Jobs, the Disney brothers, and Jeff Bezos have in common on the subject of remote work? The way they started their businesses explains this whole idea of remote work as we know it today.
Although these entrepreneurs did remote work in a different format, their sole objective is totally aligned to today’s concept. Remote work, after all, is simply doing a job in a location outside a formal office operated by an employer.
The question however is: Does remote work improve productivity for a formal organisation?
How it all began
United States NASA Engineer, Jack Niles, first introduced the term “telecommuting” in his 1973 book, The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. An individual preforming their jobs from outside the company office using telecommunication tools such as phones, email and internet is telecommuting. It is a form of remote work, as is the practice of working from homes and garages perfected by entrepreneurs such as Bezos and others.
By the year 2000, remote work options for employees has become a new normal. And then Covid-19, the global pandemic, raised it a notch. With Covid-19, modern remote working took over traditional on-site working environment. First adopted in an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, this change now appears as a more preferable alternative for workers worldwide.
Which brings us back to the question, does remote work enhance productivity?
Resorting to remote work raises a primary concern for today’s manager – how to maintain productivity in a digital workplace environment. There is always a fear that remote work obstructs productivity. Researchers found that mid to top-level management worry about how to measure employee productivity without physical monitoring.
The questions persisted until a recent study a two-year study by Great Place to Work® laid it to rest. The study involved more than 800,000 supervisors of Fortune 500 companies. Majority reported increased productivity levels after their employees started working from home. This led the researchers to conclude that “working from home is just as productive as working in the office – possibly more so.”
About new hires?
New hires working remotely raised a second level of concern with monitoring and maintaining productivity in one context: cultural adaptation. Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resource Officer of Resume.io, raised this concern. He said that remote onboarding makes it more difficult for remote hires to acclimate to a company’s culture or people from behind a screen. And that consequently, new remote hires are more likely to disregard company values and ultimately become less productive.
There are studies which show that the management styles adopted to deal with remote employees will have an impact on productivity. Overall, these studies suggest that
- Managers with more supportive approach towards remote employees maintain and increase their productivity levels.
- Workplaces that are strong in both leadership and supportive company culture can achieve high employee productivity no matter where their desks are.
- The environment is not left out in remote work impact as the reduction in work commutes has decreased traffic, carbon emissions, and noise pollution.
Does remote work improve productivity? The verdict is that increase in remote working has had both positive and negative impacts on employees, the organizations they work for, and the global economy. Such impact is both positive and negative. For companies, the negatives can be eradicated by adopting humane leadership styles and putting the right collaboration/communication tools in place. If productivity however continues to decline, learning from the successes other companies have had could also be of value.