Does Teleworking Increase Productivity?
More people are teleworking more than ever, yet contrary to what most might think, working from home or in a creative office is not a compromise but a boon to productivity.
The data shows, time and time again, that giving employees space and allowing them to work wherever they choose to (often at home) can lead to:
- More time spent working
- Shorter (albeit more frequent) breaks
- Fewer overall distractions
- Better work efficacy
- More time spent exercising and engaging in other healthy habits
There are several potential reasons why telecommuting can have serious benefits for a worker’s productivity, many of them tying into time management and the distractions of a busy office environment.
While it seems like an employee’s dream to be able to make a living and earn a steady income in one’s pajamas, and an employer’s nightmare to try and imagine their employees spending most of their work time not with the team, the general truth of it all is that remote workers are less likely to be interrupted, and more likely to get work done while on their own and at a place where they feel inspired.
What is Teleworking?
Telecommuting is when employees work for a company, but they do so remotely. In this day and age, there are many places a person may work rather than their employers’ office. They may work from home, in a coworking space, a local coffeeshop, or anywhere else.
As just one example, a 2-year Stanford experiment involving 500 employees at one of China’s biggest travel agencies showed that teleworking generally:
- Boosted productivity
- Led to fewer sick days
- Amounted to over a full day’s worth of extra work done
Despite fears that teleworking might affect their ability to work, it seemed that overall, a net gain in productivity was seen – not to mention saved expenses on office space, commute, company lunch, and a lower carbon footprint in the company’s name due to a cut commute.
1. Short Commute, Less Stress
The commute to and from work is one of the biggest reasons workers wish to work remotely. A sizeable percentage of people surveyed have explained that they would give up several different privileges in order to avoid their commute, and many have stated they would agree to a 10 percent pay cut if they could work closer to home. They claim the expenses of getting to the office, preparing or buying meals, and getting back home outweigh that 10 percent, in terms of time and money lost.
People hate the commute and depending on where your companies are situated and where most of your employees live, that commute can take anywhere from 20 minutes a day to over an hour to, and over and hour from. Census data shows that American workers in congested cities spend over 500 days of their lives getting to work and going back home – that’s nearly two years of a person’s lifespan dedicated to just transitioning from home to the office, and back.
By completely eliminating that commute, you not only give your employees several hours of their lives back, but you also give them the opportunity to turn those hours into a much more productive time at work.
Instead of showing up at the office at 9am and clocking in after a quick coffee and playing catch-up, your remote workers are likely at their desks and caffeinated by 8am, or even earlier. Homes are typically smaller than large offices, so it takes less time for them overall to get around, take bathroom breaks, brew up a fresh pot, etc.
2. Remote Workers Take More (Short) Breaks
Remote workers tend to take more breaks, but take shorter breaks – which, as other research has suggested multiple times, is actually a boon to productivity and allows workers to more effectively recharge their batteries and prepare for new challenges ahead. Instead of long breaks that completely take one out of the proper mindset for work, teleworkers can inadvertently boost their productivity by working hard – for about an hour or so, before taking a short break. Followed, of course, by more work.
Remote workers are not the only ones thriving this way, and short, frequent breaks are the hallmark of a more productive employee (provided that the time they spend working between their breaks is spent exclusively working, that means no distractions, no social media, no conversations with friends or coworkers).
Frequent breaks don’t mean frequent dips in productivity, especially if they’re used to recharge after a longer period of time spent entirely focused on the task at hand.
3. Working Where They Choose Offers Less Distraction
This might seem strange, but despite less oversight, working from home, or another location of their choice, actually offers fewer distractions than working in an office. At home, particularly in a private room like a study or a home office, workers are completely free from any and all inadvertent interruptions and distractions.
They can still distract themselves – and admittedly, many do – but working from home eliminates being distracted by rowdy office behavior, a sudden interruption from a coworker, or anything else that might break concentration and pull one out of one’s work.
4. Teleworkers Can Still Interact and Cooperate
One of the worries of recommending more workers to work remotely is that it would lower employee engagement and lead to more employees feeling distant from the company. While this may be true for employees who are totally isolated from their company, most teleworkers are not.
Those teleworking still check in with their employer, attend meetings through conference call, and thanks to modern teleconferencing technology, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to call face-to-face. Remote workers should nonetheless be encouraged to stop by the office every now and again, and many do.
5. A Millennial and Gen Z Attitude
Expectations are different among younger and older generations when it comes to workplace flexibility. As millennials currently occupy the largest demographic in the workforce, with Gen Zers being their immediate successors, it’s important for companies to recognize that many have grown accustomed to having telecommuting as an option, and recognize both the personal benefits and productivity benefits of being able to work from home – or anywhere, for that matter.
The Cons of Teleworking
Yes, teleworking is not for everyone. Some people need the structure and camaraderie of an office and working from home simply makes them miserable. However, there’s more to remote working than just working from home.
In fact, a study by the Harvard Business School showed that, instead of simply working from home, allowing employees to work from anywhere at all led to an even greater rise in productivity, and helped them address issues that began to crop up among people who exclusively worked at home (including feelings of isolation, and higher levels of anxiety than their peers).
More research would serve to better clarify the benefits of allowing teleworking and encouraging workers to work outside of the office and decide for themselves when and where to work, whether from the comfort of their own bed, to the local coffee shop, or an entrepreneurial co-working space.