Working remotely more than three days a week harms workplace culture, study suggests

Whitepaper also advises employers to agree frequency and location of remote work to prevent loss of productivity

Working remotely for up to two and a half days per week has positive impacts on wellbeing, however three days or more can cause a deterioration in the quality of co-worker relationships, according to new research. 

In a whitepaper produced by Nuffield Health, the healthcare provider said that while there was no “obvious perfect ratio” for working remotely, studies suggest that negative effects such as low productivity and poor employee relations set in after more than two and a half days of remote working.

It warns that spending more than half the working week out of the office could have detrimental effects on the workplace culture, especially “deterioration in the quality of co-worker relationships”, and that colleagues who work remotely could also become a cause of resentment among office-based employees, who believe remote workers have an “easier life”.

The whitepaper advised employers “work collaboratively” with their employees to decide the appropriate application for their remote working – and said the frequency and location of remote working and the required attendance at the office were among the key issues that needed to be agreed upon.

The report also recommended employers ensure remote workers have access to technology and a suitable working environments if they want to combat productivity concerns, and suggested they offered training to employees on how to fully benefit from working remotely. 

“It is important for employers to offer training on how to manage the unique demands of remote working, while getting the benefits. For example, if remote working is done at home, to ensure separation of work and home life – so that home is not seen as a place of demand and less of restoration,” the paper said.

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Gretchen Lennon, legal consultant at Peregrine Law, previously told People Management that remote working didn’t lend itself to every role and business. She said junior workers might benefit from more hands-on supervision, but added that the office could also be a source of distraction 

“[Without] extended water-cooler chats, staff can become a lot more efficient. It can also provide them with a greater sense of autonomy if they feel less monitored at work, which encourages job satisfaction and loyalty,” she said, suggesting that instead of monitoring time spent at work, employers should instead monitor output.

Dr Ben Kelly, head of clinical research and outcomes at Nuffield Health, said there should be a healthy relationship of trust and confidence between the home worker and manager in order for remote working to succeed.

“If the remote worker is trusted, this takes much stress out of their lives – so people can carry out family responsibilities or activities, knowing that it is not a problem if they have done their work earlier or will work in the evening,” said Kelly. 

The whitepaper concluded that overall, remote working has been linked to positive wellbeing. It suggests that it may also be the key to attracting and retaining talent. Despite potential impacts to productivity levels, it concluded that there are “huge difficulties in assessing the productivity of remote workers”.