What Effect Does Remote Work Have On Productivity?


In the age of the Great Resignation, more and more employees have come to expect flexibility as part of their work environment.

Research from Microsoft shows that over 52% of people are considering switching to a fully remote or hybrid job.

Working from home became our new normal within just a few years. As a result, many companies have studied how remote work directly impacts employee productivity. With so much research on the subject of remote work productivity that's sometimes contradictory, it can be hard to identify the key trends.

That's why we've found the most authoritative studies on the effect of remote work on productivity and outlined the stats you need to know.

1. Employees Are Happier Working Remotely

Most people were forced to work from home during the pandemic. Now that restrictions are slightly easing off --- and some companies are calling for a return to the office --- many of these employees still want to work from home.

According to the Owl Labs 2021 Remote Work Study, which surveyed 2,050 full-time employees in the U.S., 84% of workers report that they would feel happier working from home rather than in an office setting. Happier employees are more engaged at work, which improves their productivity.

Buffer's 2022 State of Remote Work report surveyed 2,000 remote workers worldwide and found similar results. Over 97% of remote workers would recommend working from home to others, and 97% would like to be able to continue working remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.

2. Some Employees Believe That WFH Makes Career Growth More Difficult

Some employees feel that remote work can become an obstacle to their career progression. In Buffer's 2022 State of Remote Work, 45% of the people surveyed said that career growth is more difficult to achieve when working remotely.

There are different strategies managers can use to support their remote employees to make sure they're still growing in their careers. One way is to get employees to sign up on platforms such as Udemy, where employees can complete online courses to learn new skills.

It's also essential to actively listen to your employees. Set aside time with your remote employees to discuss their career goals and ask questions about how you can best support them.

3. Remote Employees Work Longer Hours

Owl Labs found that more than half of remote employees work more hours than at the office. In fact, "30% of men and 21% of women reported working 2+ extra hours per day."

This means some remote employees are putting in more than 10 hours of work every day. And working for too many hours can lead to prolonged stress and burnout, harming productivity.

It's why it's a good idea to invest in team-building activities like company offsites to help employees unplug from work. Also, it's a good way to make your remote team feel more connected: According to a survey by Nulab, 96% of employees report developing a better relationship with their team members because of team-building activities.

Also, it's important to enforce healthy working hours while allowing remote employees to define their available hours so you can respect boundaries. For example, a remote employee could set their out-of-office hours from 6 p.m to 9 a.m. 

4. Absence of Commute Saves Employees Time

The remote worker doesn't have to worry about the stress that comes with a long commute and can use that time to focus on work instead. According to a WFH survey of 32,000 people led by Stanford economist Nick Bloom, the absence of commuting helps employees save an average of 70 minutes per day.

The data also aligns with research from Buffer's 2022 State Of Remote Work. In this report, which surveyed 2,118 people from 16 countries, 59% of employees agreed that remote work provides them with more time because they don't commute.

With the time that remote employees save from having to commute to work each day, they have more room in their schedule to focus on what truly matters in the workplace: getting their tasks done.

5. Hybrid Arrangements Drastically Reduce Employee Quit Rates

Remote and hybrid work arrangements positively affect employee retention: The study from WFH Research found that it can reduce employee quit rates by 35%. The data affirms what Owl Labs found in their 2021 Remote Work Study --- 75% agree that remote work would make them less likely to leave their employer.

High employee turnover can hurt productivity because you have to invest effort and money into replacing the employee and training the new hire for their role. So it's in managers' best interest to offer their employees the flexibility they desire in order to retain them.

6. Close to Half of Remote Employees Feel Burned Out

Forty-nine percent of respondents to McKinsey's Future of Remote Work Report say they feel burned out "due to a lack of organizational communication." And burnout can lead to lost productivity.

Many employees are unclear about what their workplace and job expectations should look like in a post-pandemic world --- and this is causing a lot of anxiety. It can lead to poor work performance, lower productivity, and reduced job satisfaction.

McKinsey & Company recommends that organizational leaders "share more with employees, even if you're uncertain about the future, to help improve employee well-being now." Employers should also communicate openly about their expectations for remote work.

7. Employees Have a More Active Lifestyle Since the Switch to WFH

When employees are in better health, they have more energy to focus on their work, which improves productivity. Survey results from The Evolving Office, a study run by Ergotron, showed that 75% of remote employees now have a more active lifestyle since working at home full-time.

When employees can set up their own schedule, they have more room to exercise and engage in healthy activities. For example, they can easily take jogging breaks or walk to the store between tasks to stay active while they work from home. As a result, they have a better work-life balance.

8. Employees Feel Remote Work Means More Meetings

On top of working more hours, remote work can overwhelm employees' schedules with more meetings to attend than in an office environment. Sixty-one percent of employees in Buffer's 2022 State of Remote Work believe that remote work increases the number of meetings they must participate in.

To avoid overloading your remote team with meetings, ensure you only invite participants who truly need to be there. Having too many people in your video meetings also isn't the best way to have a productive conversation.

Also, ensure your video meetings are as short and straightforward as possible so you don't create Zoom Fatigue and burn out your employees. Short sessions also give remote employees more time to focus on the other essential tasks of their jobs.

9. Experienced Staff Feel More Productive When Working From Home

One of the major reasons many companies are calling for a return to the office is they don't think employees can be as productive without the traditional in-office structure. Speaking with the BBC, Bonnie Dowling says, "Many executives feel a loss of control, that they're losing a structured environment in which people are physically present in the office."

However, the research says otherwise. As employees become more comfortable with remote work, their productivity increases as well. According to Slack's Remote work in the age of Covid-19 study, 60% of experienced remote workers find working from home to be more productive.

Data from Owl Lab's 2021 State of Remote Work Report also shows that 90% of people who worked from home during the pandemic felt as productive as when they worked from the office --- or even more productive. Only 1% of respondents felt less productive working remotely.

10. Remote Employees Have Fewer Distractions Than Office Workers

Remote workers face fewer distractions than onsite employees, which helps the former to focus better on their tasks and be more productive. Airtasker's Remote Worker Survey found that onsite employees deal with lots of distractions, especially from their bosses, mostly because they share the same physical location.

In fact, 65% of office workers said they were distracted at work because their boss was too talkative, while another 52% said their boss "stressed them out." The same survey found that only 15% of remote workers were distracted by their bosses at work.

Remote work allows employees and management to rely more on asynchronous communication. As a result, it allows for more manageable collaboration between employees with fewer interruptions.

For example, instead of hopping over to a colleague's desk to ask a question (and disrupt their workflow), you can send a message in Slack, which they can respond to when they're available. It removes the false sense of urgency that requires employees to respond to every communication request immediately.

11. Remote Work Improves Employee Mental Health

In Owl Labs' 2021 Remote Work Study, 82% of employees said working remotely would improve their mental health. Remote work supports flexibility, which leads to a healthier lifestyle and better stress management.

For example, working from home means employees have more time to spend with their friends, family, or pets. It eliminates the friction between personal responsibilities and office life.

Also, not everyone is meant for the stressful environment an office sometimes provides. Remote work allows employees to work in the environment that best suits them mentally, whether it's in a coffee shop, library, or from the comfort of their own couch.

12. WFH Pressures Employees to Prove Their Productivity

When working remotely, employees feel they need to prove that they are online, and they have to work to earn their colleagues' and employers' trust. Qatalog and GitLab's Digital Presenteeism Study found that remote workers spend an additional five and a half hours weekly on digital presenteeism.

Digital presenteeism reduces employees' focus at work because it makes them anxious to keep up appearances rather than focus on actual tasks. It also makes them overwork themselves unintentionally, leading to burnout.

To fight digital presenteeism, employers need to trust their employees to do their best work --- no matter how, when, or where they work. Companies should also embrace more productive methods of ensuring workplace accountability, like providing employees with the tools and equipment to do their job and communicating transparently.

13. Employees Feel That Remote Work Improves Collaboration

Whether in an office or remote environment, effective collaboration between employees is essential for high productivity in the workplace. In Ergotron's The Evolving Office study, the company found that 78% of employees feel that remote work has improved collaboration with colleagues at their organization.

When collaboration between employees improves, they're able to work together better, solve problems quicker, and get more tasks done. As a result, it improves your company's productivity. There's a plethora of product management tools that remote companies can use to optimize their collaboration, such as Asana or ClickUp.

The Data Is Clear: Remote Work Is Productive --- When Properly Managed

Taken as a whole, the data shows remote workers are still productive and sometimes even more efficient than office workers. However, companies need to set clear expectations and encourage healthy working habits to fully reap the benefits. The best way to do that is to provide remote employees with all of the tools and resources they need for success and to maintain open and honest lines of communication.