Though expedited by Covid, work has been shifting away from the traditional office more and more since the turn of the century. In 2019, 5.7 million US employees worked from home half the time or more - an increase of 216% since 2005.
Pandemic-mandated remote work is over, but not all companies are returning to the office. Some ask whether this is the best way to work or whether freedom and flexibility are the way forward.
Proponents of the office as the ideal place for work generally believe people will not be as productive working from home. Microsoft conducted a study that found 85% of leaders find it challenging to have confidence that employees are productive with a hybrid work model.
Yet source after source pushes back against this. One company ran a test and found a 13.5% increase in productivity with employees working from home. In the same Microsoft study, 87% of employees reported being more productive with a hybrid work model. Future Forum’s Pulse Report, in 2022, found workers with “full schedule flexibility” were 29% more productive and had a 53% greater ability to focus. These numbers may not speak for the entirety of today’s workforce. But at the very least, they prove that productivity can increase away from the office.
The increased productivity many workers report with hybrid or remote work shines a light on a few flaws in how we work in the office and gives us an idea of how we can start structuring work today to maximize results.
There often needs to be more incentive to increase productivity in a traditional nine-to-five office environment. We tend to reward those who complete their tasks faster with more work. The average worker sees no reason not to stretch their work to fit their nine-to-five schedule.
By removing the constraints of the schedule, you give workers the incentive to get their tasks done faster, as they know that the more efficiently they can finish their work, the more “free” time their schedule will allow.
The amount of time meetings take up can be astounding. In one example, a single weekly recurring meeting at a company took up 300,000 hours a year when accounting for all the working hours spent preparing and attending this meeting.
Though remote work does not remove them entirely, it significantly reduces the time we spend in meetings, as most companies adopt asynchronous communication instead.
More control over our working environment makes it easier to work uninterrupted. These seemingly minor interruptions, such as a meeting or a coworker stopping by, are more damaging than we think.
Each interruption requires our mind to go through a “context switch.” This means a longer time before we can return to the same mental state and focus before the interruption.
When companies allow employees to work on their own schedule, a degree of trust is involved. Trusting employees leads them to feel more valued. It means treating employees as assets, which invariably increases employee engagement and happiness. Happier employees are more productive, meaning the benefits of offering flexible work often work both ways.
The positive points above do not necessarily mean that the traditional office environment is dead, and everyone should now work remotely. Many of us are still working to overcome challenges to remote or flexible work models.
For example, while a Microsoft study found that flexible work is “here to stay,” they also found a significant increase in worker exhaustion due to the rise in productivity. The same study found that meetings had become longer and more frequent, and interruptions were increasing, even with staff working remotely.
In a survey run at Flamingo, respondents frequently reported several challenges with working remotely, most notably distractions, communication issues, loneliness, and motivation. These are all issues that proper education for remote workers can solve. But some companies and employees may prefer to solve these issues by returning to the office.
Distractions can happen whether someone is working from home or in the office. Communication is generally easier in person, and the office also improves issues of motivation and loneliness. Some may find that these advantages of the office are worth a decrease in overall productivity.
The key idea to take away is remote or flexible work is closer than ever to becoming the norm. Detractors can no longer point to productivity worries as a reason to favor the office, as most sources find that productivity is actually higher away from the office.
Yet there are concerns with remote work too. Until we all become accustomed to working remotely and overcoming these issues, there will still be a place for the traditional office workplace.
Hybrid work provides the best of both worlds, offering employees the trust to go and work without someone looking over their shoulder and, simultaneously, a more social, collaborative environment when needed.