Three in five who worked from home during Covid say they are more productive there, study reveals

But bosses don’t share employees’ confidence in their productivity levels when away from the office

Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Three in five (60 per cent) British workers who worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic say they are more productive at home, a study has found. 

In addition, around a quarter (23 per cent) said their location made little difference to how productive they were, while 17 per cent confessed they were less productive in the home office compared to the workplace.

The findings are part of a YouGov analysis based on two separate samples of 1,100 UK decision-makers and 360 adults who worked from home during the last period of government-advised home working – both polled in June 2022.

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In contrast, the data revealed a disconnect between the group of decision-makers and of workers about how productive they were away from the office.

The findings indicated that the bosses were not as confident in productivity levels when employees worked from home, with 35 per cent thinking their direct reports get less done when working from home, compared to 33 per cent who said their reports were more productive. In a company-wide sense, only 25 per cent of leaders said they think home working is more productive, compared to 38 per cent who said office work inspired better results. 

However, despite the suspicions about their workers, when it comes to rating their own performance, only 28 per cent of business decision-makers said they got more done in the workplace than at home. 

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More than two in five (44 per cent) said they get more done when working from home, while a further 26 per cent said that there was no difference whether they were at the workplace or at home.

Commenting on the findings, Irene van der Werf, head of people at Omnipresent, said that not only are leaders’ perceptions in contrast with the beliefs and experiences of many workers over the last few years, but “this also reveals a worrying lack of faith from leaders about their employees’ ability to work without supervision and the expectations of office structure”. 

 She suggested that a lack of trust is often a catalyst to low work standards and poor output in remote environments, rather than the environment itself, and added that leaders and organisations might reap more benefits by trusting remote employees and maintaining healthy business and people operations. “Returning to the office might seem like a comfortable idea since employees have been working this way for many years, but it’s not a necessity for productivity,” van der Werf added.

Echoing this, Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates, pointed out that as the productivity of individuals was often not measured formally before the pandemic, it could be very difficult for managers to be definitive about any change in productivity now. “When people report improvements in productivity at home, which has been confirmed by our own studies, we believe they are referring to their ability to get through their own ‘to do’ list, particularly in relation to a task that requires focus,” he said.

But as leaders may have a different lens and may be thinking about the wider connotations, communicating their expectations remains key.

Proposing ways for employers to bridge these gaps, Emily Charlesworth, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus, said that it all comes down to effective employee engagement strategies with managers using the tools and skills to effectively manage remote teams “as well as they do in-office teams to prevent unconscious bias or drive disengagement from remote teams”. 

She also suggested that “engagement strategies should consider how to connect with remote teams in a way that nurtures the emotional connection they have with the business, which will increase their loyalty and desire to do a great job”.  

This in turn goes above and beyond one-to-ones and work-based check-ins – “it’s about recognising the needs of individuals and empowering them to do their best work in a way that also works for them”, Charlesworth added.