And as we look forward, more and more companies have made the decision to transition to either a permanent 100% remote work model (like Quora, Basecamp, Shopify, Upwork and Drift) or a hybrid remote work model where remote work will remain a critical part of how they operate for the foreseeable future (Spotify, Slack, Hubspot).
This massive shift in the acceptance and long-term adoption of remote working has stirred up questions about what that future will look like in terms of productivity.
Is remote working more productive?
Are remote workers more productive than those in office?
There looks to be a clear answer to that.
Remote work productivity research that’s been conducted both before and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic points to YES: on the whole, employees who work remotely ARE more productive than they are/were in the office.
That’s not to say that those who don’t find working remotely leads to higher productivity have no argument. Every employee is different and not everyone will do well remotely. And when you look beyond the statistics and talk to real company leaders and employees, working remotely introduces its own challenges that may hinder productivity such as:
- poor leadership
- inequality of remote support, access and connectivity
- isolation and lack of socialization
- a lack of work-life separation
- employee burnout
In this article, we’ll cover the question of whether working remote work leads to more productivity from several angles. We’ll look at statistics from before the pandemic started and after, as well as real experiences from company leaders who have been managing their remote teams for a year or more.
Remote work productivity statistics before COVID
- Stanford University conducted one of the most cited research studies on remote worker productivity in 2013: this 9-month study monitored 16,000 call center employees volunteered to work remotely, who went on to show a 13% performance increase.
- Another remote work productivity study by Telework Research Network revealed that 47% of people who have the option to telework are “very satisfied” with their jobs, compared to 27% of those who are office-bound. In the same study, it talks about how Best Buy’s average productivity had increased 35% through its flexible work program, and how American Express teleworkers handled 26% more calls and produced 43% more business than their office-based counterparts.
- ConnectSolutions’ Remote Collaborative Worker Survey also confirms that workers are more productive when working remotely. Of the 39% who work remotely at least a few times per month, 77% report greater productivity while working off site with 30% accomplishing more in less time and 24% accomplishing more in the same amount of time. 23% are even willing to work longer hours than they normally would on site to accomplish more while 52% are less likely to take time off when working remotely—even when sick.
- A 2017 Flexjobs survey showed that workers are more productive at home, with 76% claiming that they’re more productive when working remotely because they experience fewer distractions, and 62% attributing their productivity to a less noisy work environment.
Current remote work productivity statistics
- Great Place to Work measured employee productivity from March to August of 2020 – the first six months of stay-at-home orders – and compared it to the same six-month period in 2019. Results showed productivity had improved while working from home (see graph).
- Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, did a recent remote work survey of nearly 800 employers and it revealed that even though working from home is often viewed skeptically, 94% of employers surveyed said their company productivity was actually the same (67%) or higher (27%) than it was before the pandemic, even though so many of their employees have been working remotely this year.
- A PwC remote work study shows that remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers. The shift in positive attitudes toward remote work is evident: 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in their June 2020 survey.
Real experiences of remote work productivity
If you go by just the statistics, remote work is the ideal setup to ensure maximum productivity across the board. But when you actually hear the real experiences of companies and their employees who are working remotely, things aren’t so positive and easy.
Yes, for the most part working remotely has led to higher productivity, but not's not the case for every industry, person or situation. And even for those situations where productivity is up overall, there’s been significant learning curve and not every company is going to get it right.
Here are 20+ company leaders on whether working remotely is more productive, how they know / measure that, and their unique perspective on managing a remote team:
20+ remote company leaders on whether remote working has been led to more team productivity:
People’s efficiency during WFH very much differs from person-to-person and can’t be evaluated in a blanket statement. Some workers thrive from being in their own space without distractions from coworkers or the pressures of commuting; others find WFH isolating and have many additional stressors around the home. That’s why hybrid work models will become so appealing once the pandemic winds down—it will allow workers to personalize their environment towards what works for them, based on their own evaluation of their needs.
Dr. Tzur Gabi, Co-Founder of Caligenix
We have been remote since the pandemic hit last year and our data around employee productivity has been pretty interesting.
Like most things in life, after conducting a detailed internal analysis of all the data we could gather around employee productivity pre-COVID and post-COVID, there is no black and white answer. We cannot say categorically that yes, remote employees are more productive, or no they are not. Instead, *what the data shows is that it depends.
With respect to administrative work and repetitive, task-based assignments, such as data entry, invoicing and other simplistic activities, *productivity is significantly up since going remote*. To be specific, for these types of tasks, our team's productivity is up 34%, measured in terms of how quickly these tasks are completed each day.
The best I can surmise here is that whereas employees used to stretch this work to fill more of their workday when in office, they are now incentivized to quickly knock these tasks out so they can leave their computer and focus on personal matters. For example, they know a certain task pre-COVID was expected to take 3 hours when in office, but when their foot is put to the gas pedal, they can get it done in 2 hours. As such, they quickly complete the work when remote and can then sneak away to do what they want, as no one is looking over their shoulder at home.
Conversely, *we have also found that team-based projects have seen a massive decrease in productivity. *To be exact, projects thus far appear to take 23% longer to complete than they used to. This one is difficult to nail down with respect to cause, but the best I can figure here is that lack of interpersonal communication and meetings slows down progress. People can more easily punt on tasks and delay in responding to coworkers. The sense of urgency that a team lead or project manager can instill in person doesn't seem to work over Zoom or email.
John Ross, CEO at Test Prep Insight
Common wisdom has always been that employees will be less productive working from home because they don't have as much oversight and have far more distractions. My experience has shown the opposite, though. Our staff moved to fully remote in May of 2020 and they've been remote ever since. While there was a brief adjustment period where productivity slowed, after that I've seen productivity stay at the same level as before or even better.
I believe this is because employees are able to focus on their own jobs without having to worry about the distraction of coworkers. They can set their schedules, for the most part, and work when they're most productive.
Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer
“We are a 100% female run e-commerce social enterprise in the health and wellness industry. The key benefit our team has experienced as a result of going fully remote as a result of the pandemic has been a dramatic decrease in stress levels. Our team reports a significant decrease in stress largely due to their ability to avoid a sometimes lengthy commute to work, a rush at lunchtime, and having to fight traffic on the way home.
In addition, they report that avoiding their commute back home also leaves them in a better state of mind for the rest of their day after work, making it easier to recreate and recharge for the following day. Interestingly, this decrease in stress levels has been paired with a significant increase in productivity. In particular, our team is able, in the same amount of time as a standard working day before the pandemic, to get more done. While this was certainly not the case at the start of the pandemic when we were still working out our protocols and systems, the team seems to have come up the learning curve and is now able to work seamlessly.
Our #1 tip for other companies considering a fully remote workplace is to make sure all your systems are fully functional before taking the plunge. Experiment by giving everyone the option to work remotely on Fridays, and use those as trial runs to help work out the kinks before going fully remote.”
Jessica Rose, HR Director of Copper H2O
“When working remotely, productivity really hinges on having the right tools and innovative leadership. At MuteSix, we always ensure that each member of our team is equipped with the best apps and software to complete their projects and tasks, as well as supported by a company culture that helps breed creativity, efficiency and, above all else, productivity. Working from home doesn't have to differ from a traditional office environment beyond the team member's geographic location. Every process and procedure that boosts productivity can be applied, paired with the benefit of time saved on commuting to the office. In fact, many employees thrive when working from home, and this can easily be measured by projects staying ahead of their deadlines, and goals that are on target.”
Greg Gillman, Chief Revenue Officer of MuteSix
“We're a law firm, so I would say no, we're not as productive working remotely. The amount of work we do that involves the courthouse has slowed down our processes as the courts are closed and operating under COVID restrictions. We have significant delays that impact our caseload. As an attorney, the challenge is that we have lots of legal documents that need to be signed and sealed at the courthouse. We've gotten better at waiting, but no one is pleased with the delays and workarounds.”
John Berry, CEO of Berry Law
“I work as a Network Security Engineer on a major ISP. There I lead a team of 20 engineers in a project regarding a process mining approach to cybersecurity.
[Things] began good but gets successively worse.
At the beginning of the pandemic when I and my team began to work from home, I saw an increase in productivity. Things got done faster and with fewer complications than before. But as the pandemic has proceeded things have progressively gotten worse. With more complications and slower progress.
I believe this is because as new people have joined the project, the communication in the team has gotten worse. As people don’t know each other as well as before. Therefore, many don’t ask for support when they need it, and ideas aren’t thrown around to the same degree as before. Furthermore, I also believe people are beginning to get tired of working from home, and thus the motivation to get things done has taken a hit.
As for the future when the pandemic is over, I hope that we can have a hybrid approach to how we work. With some days being office days and others with the option of working from home or the office. I believe this would be the best compromise for everyone.
Andreas Grant, Network Security Engineer and Founder of Networks Hardware
“We haven’t seen an incredibly significant amount of change in productivity since we’ve moved into working remotely, which does come as a surprise, to an extent. It’s really been about tending to the needs of our employees and keeping an open line of communication available for them at all times. It’s all been a collaborative effort towards making sure our business keeps moving along during a difficult year. The key to understanding productivity is catching an issue before it arises, or as it is arising, and as we’ve done that, we’ve been able to nip any issues in the bud. I believe that is why we haven’t seen a huge dip in the productiveness of our employees. There is a direct correlation between company culture and productivity.”
Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie
I've found that hiring good people and trusting them to do their jobs is the cornerstone of remote work success. Remote workers also often have the flexibility to design their day around when they're most productive. They can take real breaks when needed, which research shows is key to staying productive and refreshed throughout the day. Although working from home offers its own challenges and distractions, these are more than offset by the time saved by not commuting and not trying to get deep thinking work done in a noisy office environment.
Finally, to ensure remote workers maintain productivity, leaders should use apply outcomes-based metrics, not measurements based on hours worked.
Larry English, President of Centric Consulting
Personally, I would say that my employees are more productive working from home. I have measured this by our productivity from last year's numbers. I believe this is down to my employees time management. When we are at the workplace there is more opportunity to converse with each other and our break time is at set times, but many have said that working from home has helped them stay more focused on the tasks at hand and are more likely to work and eat so that they can create free time for their families once their tasks are completed for the day. Working from home also means no travel times which gives my employees more time to start and complete their duties earlier.'
Ethan Taub, CEO of Goalry
“In our company, we use a calculation process called Utilization rate. This is used to calculate both employee productivity and spare capacity for them to take on more work i.e us to take on another client. Our staff’s productivity has gone up by 30%+ since working from home as they are less tired (commuting and longer in bed), less distractions as our office is very busy and chatty.
Once the utilization rate hits 75% then that is a signal that we need another member of staff to cope with the workload. 75% is the cut off because there needs to be a buffer of 25^for personal projects, coffeebreaks and unexpected work or colleagues being sick and they have to pick up some of their work.”
Benjamin Rose, Co-founder of Trainer Academy
“Since we've started working fully remotely about a year ago, we have not noticed a drop off in productivity from our employees. In fact, we've become more efficient. The reason I know this is because we use tools like Notion to organize all of our projects and keep track of what everyone is working on. Also, each of our teams participates in daily standup meetings at 10AM PST. During these meetings, we discuss what we did yesterday, what we are working on today, and talk through any issues we are experiencing. We do all of our meetings via Zoom to keep each other accountable.
Another important strategy for productivity that I highly recommend is to focus exclusively on KPIs and deliverables. Managers should not start wasting everyone’s time by measuring and tracking every little move that employees make while working from home. Again, set clear expectations in terms of KPIs and deliverables that each employee is supposed to achieve and let it rip. These goals should be just as ambitious as the ones you would set if your employees were in the office, but they must also be achievable. You don’t want to sandbag yourself, and you don’t want to overshoot. Set SMART KPIs.”
Kevin Miller, Co-Founder and CEO of GR0
“As a SaaS company, most of our work can be done from home. We went from office to remote since last year, and we found that our employees are just as productive as working in the office.
We measure this by setting up weekly targets for employees base on their workload prior to remote working. Every employee is able to meet and if not exceed their weekly targets.
The main reasons for being more efficient at home are:
1. The workers save on traveling time, which would allow them to spend more hours doing productive work.
2. There are less unproductive meetings where everyone is asked to attend for the sake of attending. We now only have zoom meetings when it is absolutely necessary and invite only the essential parties.
3. The employees are given more flexibility on when to work so long as they can meet their weekly targets. Some of them would spend the day taking care of their family and work harder in the evening to make up for the lost time. So they actually get to produce more.”
Kim Chan, Lawyer and Founder of DocPro.com
Our employees have been, on average, 25 percent more productive over the last year while working remotely. We know this because we work off of weekly targets and week over week, since we began working fully remotely in March of last year, we see that the majority of our people take 25 percent fewer hours to hit their weekly targets.
The primary reason that this has been the case is almost certainly that employees understand it is entirely their responsibility to structure their workdays in the way that best suits them while accomplishing their daily and weekly tasks. They are able to make more effective use of their time, especially now that commuting and the typical distractions one deals with in an office setting are no longer issues. I also think people really want this arrangement to work out long term and are motivated to prove to management that they are even more efficient while working from home.
Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer of Resume.io
My team works remotely ever since, so I’m familiar with all the signs of an unproductive employee. Remote workers are definitely more productive than when working in-office. But there’s a lot that goes on as to why they thrive more in remote work than in the traditional setting.
You see, employees who work from home aren’t tired of travel or commute. They have ample time to rest before they start working. They can eat as they work and have more nutritious food choices. These collectively add to the comfort of working from home, which helps them be more productive. We listed down more of its benefits in this article.
However, remote workers can only be productive when their personality fits the setup. Many extroverts struggle to transition to working from home because they want a highly social environment. This can be a significant barrier in having work efficiency.
Michael Shen, CEO of Skill Success
“Less productive, no. I don't think anything can beat an office environment for clear & timely communication and culture building that ultimately impacts productivity. But here are the things we do to ensure we get the most out of our staff working from home. Every morning we have an all-hands-on-deck meeting at 8 am. This ensures everyone is ready for the day, knows what is going on and what is expected of the company. Regular scheduled weekly department meetings also take place so that our staff knows when and what they have to prepare for.
We also use computer monitoring software that records start time, end time, total hours worked and productivity during those hours by department or project.
Michael Melwicks, President of Shipmoto
“I would say we have seen an increase in productivity since we made the switch to remote work. Maybe you would think the opposite would occur, but people develop their own routines from home. People are comfortable and can wear whatever they want, sit wherever they want, eat whenever they want. Those aspects of remote work can actually increase productivity— being in your own comfortable, familiar environment.”
Olivier Momma, Co-founder of Esker
“The work we do is largely remote and I have found that productivity varies across the board but on a whole, remote productivity is high, providing it is properly managed and it is accepted as different to office work and treated as such.
Remote work can't be judged on hours worked, it has to be task based. In this way, workers can take whatever time they want and be flexible. I have found this approach to produce much higher productivity levels than an office where they are there for a set time and paid regardless of work achieved.
Joe Wilson, Senior Career Advisor at MintResume
“The challenges that come with remote work and productivity all relate back to how our minds work. We are all influenced by our environment, whether it’s the people surrounding us or the daily tasks that are thrown in our direction. Therefore, when working in the remote environment, it's about catering to those needs in a transformative way.
Naturally, productivity will suffer from home. It’s hard to find motivation when you’re working from the same room you’re sleeping in. Our employees have expressed concerns about their productivity, and we have worked with them to overcome any issues that pop up. Complex tasks are the ones that have a grip on our minds, which has been translating to more productive days at times. At other times, it has been causing some burnout. On the opposite end, mundane tasks have also been equalling more productivity. It’s easier to get the simple things done— you don’t need as much energy or motivation. That’s why we’ve found it’s important to maintain a balance and divide those tasks evenly amongst our team.”
Jing Gao, Founder and CEO of Fly By Jing
“We have found that our team members have been incredibly productive while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team members will send along roundups each week of what they worked on which allows us to track and follow their assignments and deadlines. We also take Zoom or phone calls on a regular basis with team members to hear how things are going outside of work. This is important because every employee has a different remote work situation. They may have needs they would like to discuss that are unrelated to their workload or simply want the opportunity to chat with us about life since we have fewer watercooler interactions on a day-to-day basis. Active listening ensures that we are able to offer support as needed if we pick up on subtle cues that could suggest they might be a bit overwhelmed and need some extra help or are ready for a short break by taking a day off.”
Dana Case, Director of Operations of MyCorporation
If we are talking about remote work productivity, a year into the pandemic, then anecdotally, employees are working more. This can be connected to the fact that we are no longer working from home out of convenience, but out of requirement. Our office and our kitchen table have been one and the same since last March, which makes it more and more difficult for us to go home at the end of the day, because home IS the office.Even before we, as a workforce, primarily worked remote, managers and senior leaders may have felt the need to be work after 5 PM or be available when needed. Those expectations are now bleeding to everyone within the organization - because we are readily available through our laptops and our phones. And, to be fair, it's not like we're going anywhere.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the boundaries between home and work life were blurred - now they've been obliterated.One way we've determined that we are working more, therefore being more productive, is the fact that we complete timecards to track billable hours for our clients. Personally, I can't remember a week in recent memory where I haven't logged less than 40 hours in a week. Not only are clients expecting more availability, but everyone feels the pressure to perform because they don't want their jobs to be at risk if we find ourselves in another pandemic that will require another round of layoffs. We're also all expected to do more with less, because of the hesitancy to fill positions or the inability to financially support filling vacant positions.
Eric Mochnacz, Senior HR Consultant at Red Clover
Working remotely, whether it's just until it makes sense to go "back to normal" or on more permanent and long-term basis, is going to be a challenge no matter how your employees adapt.
By introducing remote-friendly benefits, revisiting and updating your remote tool stack, taking steps to foster better remote engagement, and most importantly, listening to your employees' unique needs, are all things that will give you a better chance at having a team that can be truly productive while remote.
Compt is the #1 employee stipends platform that gives your people the freedom to choose the lifestyle perks that are best for them and their always evolving needs, even when remote. Interested in learning how Compt might benefit your company? Consult with our team or request a demo.