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Want Remote Workers to Stay Productive? Manage Everyone's Expectations

Want Remote Workers to Stay Productive? Manage Everyone's Expectations
Credit: AniaFotKam/Shutterstock

Much research has suggested that employees who are allowed to work from home often produce more than their office counterparts. However, a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science discovered that on a long-term basis, there are no differences in productivity levels between home and office workers.

Productivity starts to drop once workers start feeling that working from home is just the norm and no longer a privilege, said Esther Canonico, the study's author and a doctoral student in the London School of Economics and Political Science's department of management.

"This study provides a glimpse into a future where flexible working practices could become business as usual and seen as an entitlement by employees, especially among the younger generation," Canonico said in a statement. "Whereas once people saw it as a favor and felt the need to reciprocate and give back more to the organization for having that benefit, in this future, they will not."

For the study, Canonico surveyed and interviewed employees at a business with more than 900 employees working in different locations throughout the United Kingdom. Among the employees, 11 percent worked from home full time, while 44 percent worked from home at least 20 percent of a typical week. [See Related Story: What Remote Workers Need to Know About Career Development]

The results revealed that all employees who work from home full time put in extra hours. However, the amount of those extra hours declined over time. Specifically, those who worked from home full time for up to two years worked 3.1 extra hours. Those extra hours dropped to 1.2 for those who worked from home for between five and 10 years.

"Results seem to suggest that homeworkers work longer hours when they start working from home and reduce the number of extra working hours by the time they reach ten years of working from home," Canonico wrote in the research. "This also suggests that there is a period of 'paying the employer back' for home working before it begins to seem like an entitlement and not a privilege."

Part of the decrease could be a result of how valued remote workers feel. Canonico said some of the full-time remote workers interviewed felt that their contribution to the organization was greater than the organization's investment in them.

"The reasons were varied, but mainly the homeworkers felt that they worked harder than office-based workers and saved the organization financial costs," she wrote.

The key for full-time work-from-home arrangements to be successful is for both employees and employers to manage expectations, according to Canonico. She said employers who expect remote employees to be a lot more productive, or workers who think they don't have to flexible just because their employer is being flexible with them are likely to be disappointed.

"The study showed that some homeworking employees feel resentful that employers don't pay their utility bills, or cover stationery costs, for example," Canonico said. "Some managers, on the other hand, feel homeworkers take advantage of the situation."

Employers who want to get the most benefit from their work-from-home policies should limit employees to only working from home two or three days a week, the research shows.

"This paper found that moderate use of homeworking, rather than working mostly from home or the office, brought most benefits to the employee and employer," Canonico wrote in the study.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.