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New Research Shows People Who Choose To Work Remotely Are Less Productive

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The COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, came like an eraser to blur the dividing lines between the workplace and our homes. With it came the promise of freedom and flexibility—two words we could never say no to. So, we jumped right into remote work culture with glee. Little did we know that our productivity was the price we had to pay for our newfound autonomy.

No, this isn’t mere speculation. An actual study on worker productivity making the rounds has shown that remote workers are more likely to be unproductive than on-site staff. So, unless your employer hasn’t read this study or has absolute faith in your self-discipline, you may need to start reconditioning your mind to go back to the office.

The study, which was carried out in Chennai, India, on remote data-entry staff who were selected randomly, showed an 18% drop in productivity compared to when they worked from the office. It was also revealed that the workers who had a preference for remote work were already about 12% more effective at their office work than others. However, soon after they started working from home, their speed and accuracy reduced by 27%. 

Meanwhile, their counterparts who preferred office work and were significantly less efficient at their jobs, had their productivity reduced by only 13% when they started working from home.

David Atkin, one of the researchers, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor. According to him, the study also found that “those whose productivity suffers relatively more when they work from home are actually more likely, not less, to choose WFH.” In other words, the workers who are less productive when working remotely are the ones who prefer to work from home.

“One explanation for why workers are choosing to work where they are less productive is that workers who most need to be around the house during the workday are exactly the workers who are most distracted working from home,” he said. From attending to the needs of their children to running other household responsibilities, these workers hardly have enough time to attend to their work. They are typically also employees from homes with more limited financial privileges.

Fortunately, besides just explaining the problem, Atkin also provided a possible solution for the reduced productivity among remote workers—hybrid work arrangements. In his words, “I would speculate that being able to WFH several days a week, and go the office the other days, may balance workers’ demands for WFH with the productivity costs we find — and the ability to provide face-to-face training and team interactions that are major drivers of productivity in more complex job settings.”

The truth is that working from home gives employees an increased sense of independence and control. On a general note, this can lead to improved creativity and higher job satisfaction. However, these benefits can easily be overshadowed when indiscipline becomes the order of the day. 

From making to-do lists to setting up a dedicated workspace, establishing a routine, taking breaks at regular intervals, etc., we advise remote workers to explore more ways to make working at home more fulfilling and productive. It all starts by agreeing to learn, relearn, and adapt.


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