Remote Working boosts productivity for office-based work
All of the indications are that remote working boosts productivity for office-based work. One recent US study of 30,000 workers indicated a massive 47% increase in productivity another smaller study with 1,000 workers carried out before the pandemic showed only a 13% increase but the common theme is that productivity is boosted by remote work. I ran a remote working pilot for a large company in 2005 and even though the technology was a lot poorer, it showed a clear increase in productivity. So let’s look at the most common definition of productivity:
i.e. productivity measures the ratio between what you have to put in to get whatever it is you’re trying to produce. Remote work offers enhancement to the top line – people get more done at home and a reduction in the bottom line – fewer offices mean lower rental, heating, lighting, cleaning, maintenance and insurance costs. So for office based work, you have the nirvana of more work for less cost. In nearly every case you’re going to find that remote working boosts productivity.
You can multiply the gains by casting off dinosaur office-based culture
However this isn’t as necessarily quite as simple as it might seem. The main issue is that although people appear to be working more hours they may not be working as productively as they were in the office. What we’re predominantly seeing right now is not remote working but crisis induced home working with most work carried out using the same approach, processes and mostly identical technology as office-based work. If companies really want to exploit the huge potential productivity gains offered by remote work then they need to work a lot smarter and re-organise and re-tool for remote work.
Meeting culture needs to be the first to go!
An example of the sort of reorganisation companies need to consider is around meetings. One of the big features of any office-based work is meeting overload. Life can at times appear to be a succession of meetings with barely enough time to fit any real work in. A poorly planned and thought out approach to remote work results too often in not just the continuation of this outdated culture but its amplification by doing away with all of that pesky time wasted walking between meeting rooms! This is the surest way to cripple the productivity of remote teams.
The companies who have been remote working for years have moved beyond this and concentrate far more on asynchronous communication with a greater use of messaging threads, knowledge-bases and collaboration apps to work out a solution, with meetings held to finally agree and confirm the solution or sometimes cancelled as superfluous. Diaries are less full and meetings shorter which is better for an employee’s state of mind and their productivity. This is the approach used by companies like GitLab who have around 1,200 employees and no offices. Their IT, Customer Service, Sales, PR, Marketing, HR and Accounts staff all work remotely. They’re a successful, growing company with happy and productive employees and not a single dollar of office cost. They’re just one of an expanding band of companies that are making remote the future of work.
Many governments are showing a blinkered approach and want to return to the old norm
One recent report in the UK suggested that government are concerned that remote work will reduce the UK’s productivity. This is a very blinkered view and with appropriate organisation changes and greater use of collaboration tools, the reverse, that remote working boosts productivity, will definitely be the case. Ironically successive UK governments have grappled with the problem of the UK’s historic low productivity to no avail and now that the solution is right in front of their eyes, they seem intent on rejecting it! Governments worldwide may well resist the onward march of remote work because they fear its effects on the service industries that cluster around big cities – everything from rail and underground networks to hairdressers, restaurants and coffee shops.
The more progressive companies and governments are gaining competitive edge
However the tide has turned with many employers worldwide like Microsoft and Dropbox to declaring that remote work is here to stay. More progressive governments are supporting rather than resisting the trend with for example, the Japanese government are paying employees $9,000 to move out of the crowded Tokyo conurbation and work remotely in the countryside and the German government about to publish a draft law making working from home a legal right. These governments’ appreciation that remote working boosts productivity is likely to position them far better in the post-COVID world than the dinosaurs who cling to the notion of dragging staff back into the drudge of commuting into crowded city centres and outdated office cultures.