- In 2011, at the dawn of remote work, employees felt more productive in the office than elsewhere, but times have changed.
- In 2021, work-from-home productivity was often higher than in-office productivity.
- More productive remote work can result from taking and encouraging breaks, facilitating employee interaction, setting a schedule, and tracking time and attendance.
- This article is for small business owners, managers and employees looking to make the most of their remote workdays.
As the number of Americans working from home increases, so does the amount of work they’re getting done. This wasn’t quite true of work-from-home productivity a decade ago as telecommuting first emerged, but it’s certainly true now. And given the rapid increase in the number of remote teams amid the COVID-19 pandemic, modern work-from-home productivity statistics are more meaningful than ever.
Data on work-from-home productivity in 2021
A groundbreaking study conducted from May 2020 through March 2021 shows the positive effects of widespread shifts to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study, which the University of Chicago and the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology conducted jointly, found work-from-home productivity superior to in-office productivity. The study comprised 30,000 participants ages 20 to 64 who had annual salaries of at least $20,000 in 2019.
Among the study’s participants, 40% found their work-from-home productivity greater than their in-person productivity. Only 15% of respondents felt the opposite. Participants who fared better working from home found their productivity increased by an average of 7%. Additionally, 60% of participants were more productive at home than expected, with 14% of participants saying the opposite.
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The study’s authors used these results to determine the potential impacts on the entire U.S. workforce. They found that up to a 5% national increase in productivity could be possible with increasing rates of remote work.
How work-from-home productivity has changed in 10 years
A 2011 survey from CareerBuilder found that 35% of those telecommuting rather than visiting the office worked eight or more hours a day, up nearly 20% from four years before that.
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said at the time that the use of smartphones and advanced network technology made access to the office easier than ever, resulting in more companies embracing the work-from-home option and more workers putting in full-time hours from their own homes.
In 2011, telecommuters were split as to whether their time was better spent at home or at the office. In CareerBuilder’s 2011 survey, only 29% of respondents reported getting more work done from home. But as mobile devices and digital communications software have improved, remote workers now feel differently.
While talkative co-workers and the allure of the vending machine can be distractions at the office, those who work from home named household chores as the biggest interruptions in their workday. Television, pets, errands, children and the lure of the internet also made the list.
As the survey revealed that 30% of telecommuters were working from home in their pajamas, Haefner advised keeping a normal routine to improve efficiency.
Key takeaway: Remote workers in 2021 feel they are more productive than ever, far outpacing their counterparts from 10 years ago.
How to increase work-from-home productivity
Although working from home feels different from working in a traditional office, it’s clear that remote productivity is feasible, if not inevitable. If high remote productivity still feels out of reach, here are some tips to increase it.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Teams that work in person have clear boundaries between work and non-work hours. This boundary is tougher to identify at home. To restore it, determine the daily hours during which you and your team will work. Encourage focusing on work during these hours while minimizing distractions. You’ll always have time later for non-work activities.
- Encourage employee interaction. According to a Front Page survey, approximately 70% of remote employees feel disconnected from their teammates. This emotional distance can lead to employees who feel less engaged and motivated, and are less productive as a result. Counter this effect by encouraging employee interaction. That can be as simple as creating channels in your workplace communication platform for discussing non-work interests. It could also mean hosting virtual happy hours every Friday after work, for example.
- Take breaks. It’s easy to think that breaks detract from your productivity. After all, how can you be productive when you’re not working? However, breaks can actually increase productivity. That’s because breaks can stimulate your creativity, boost your mental health, and help you form good habits. Encourage your team to take breaks – their productivity depends on it.
- Track time and attendance. If you know how long your remote employees typically spend on certain tasks, you’ll get a sense of everyone’s productivity levels from afar. Your employees can do the same by tracking their own productivity levels. Time and attendance tracking software such as Rippling delivers this information through a user-friendly interface that’s easy to implement.
Haefner also advised finding a spot to work with minimal distractions, keeping in regular contact with colleagues to help you focus on the job, and scheduling short breaks to take care of chores, play with pets, or run a brief errand if necessary. She said telecommuters will be less likely to stop work early if they structure the perks of being at home appropriately into their schedules.
Remote team productivity is attainable. It might even be better than your team’s performance in the office. And if it ever starts fading, look back at the above tips and statistics. They’ll give you just the burst of motivation you need.
Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.