When it comes to completely virtual work, team leaders have questions. One of the most common is, “does remote work increase productivity?” Many leaders who had this question and were forced into an all-remote environment due to COVID-19 have their own thoughts on the matter.
Many team leaders we talk to believe that work-from-home will have no negative impact on their team’s productivity. Their teams found that abrupt switch to remote work due to COVID-19 did not reduce their output and performance. In some cases, teams’ productivity improved as their work environment became more structured, and they were able to invest more focused uninterrupted time in their tasks.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared a set of findings from their research that challenge this point of view. While the research confirms that most white-collar employees made the transition to virtual work well, it reveals a critical risk for long-term organizational health and performance. This is the risk of losing the connection that is typically created through spontaneous communication, small talk, and casual interactions.
HBR highlights three types of connections potentially undermined by all-virtual work:
(1) Integrating New Employees
As London Business School’s Dan Cable, Harvard’s Francesca Gino, and the University of North Carolina’s Bradley Staats have shown in their research, great onboarding involves allowing new employees to apply their signature strengths and express their genuine selves. This typically requires numerous in-depth interactions, and existing employees are accustomed to having those in person.
(2) Creating “Weak Ties”
This refers to shallow or peripheral relationships among members of an organization who don’t work closely with each other but have nonetheless connected over time. By providing novel information and complementary expertise, weak ties have been shown to play an important role in organizational performance, including innovation, raising or maintaining product and service quality, and attaining project milestones.
(3) Fostering Relationships
Virtual work makes it difficult for leaders to observe and foster the creation of relationships among their pools of talent that are likely to produce benefits for the organization in the future. Managing by walking around does not translate into managing by emailing around (as Ethan Burris, a McCombs School of Business professor, put it). People are still getting the work done, but the long-term relationships that once sprang from the shared experiences are undoubtedly at risk.
What are the implications for teams?
All-virtual work requires proactive strategies for deepening connections in teams. This is the only way to avoid an inevitable drop in performance in the long term. Moreover, by actively working on maintaining and expanding connections virtually, teams can improve their productivity and become happier in their job.
Productivity Studies on Remote Work
However, answering the question “does remote work increase productivity” requires more than anecdotal evidence. That’s why we want to share some research from various sources that can help determine whether the true answer is yes or no.
Stanford professor, Nicholas Bloom, teamed up with academics from MIT, ITAM, and the University of Chicago to host a huge survey. It focused on workers’ attitudes about remote work and their work arrangements. As of April 2022, those working remotely reported being about 9% more efficient than they were in the office.
Of course, one study doesn’t prove the case. Another study from Texas A&M, however, came out with the same findings. This study was conducted before the pandemic and looked at productivity in normal times without the extra stress of a pandemic.
Over 250 workers from an oil and gas company were forced to leave the office after Hurricane Harvey. The study shows that productivity levels were just as good as in the office, except when the hurricane hit.
Want more evidence the next time someone asks, “does remote work increase productivity?” A survey of 800 workers by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, shows that productivity was at least as good if not better than before the pandemic despite workers being remote.
Accountability and Happiness Will Keep Remote Teams Productive and Engaged
So it seems clear that remote teams can be just as productive as any other team. However, it does take some work to ensure that happens. Workers need to be given the right tools to do a fantastic job at home or on the road, just as they would if their time was being spent in an office.
As a leader, it’s essential to have trust in those on your team. You should know that teams can get things done when needed. This doesn’t mean you should micromanage their every move. That’s the opposite of the tactic you should take. Foster a framework of trust, and you’ll know people are on the ball without hounding them about it.
At the same time, accountability has to be in place. If someone isn’t meeting deadlines or getting their work done, it’s important to be proactive about making needed changes. Your remote team should be meeting all their deadlines. The team members should also be supporting each other when remote. Just because everyone is out of the office doesn’t mean that should change.
The reality is that happy teams are the most likely to be productive. This is how you get great work out of them regularly. If you’re searching for some method to keep your team happy and accountable, consider the ones below:
- Create a goal-setting environment that pushes workers to go beyond.
- Build partnerships where employees work together or with leaders to get things done.
- Make sure you don’t stop teambuilding just because things are remote; look into virtual options to keep people communicating and learning.
What Is the Impact of All-Virtual Work for Teams?
While the answer to “does remote work increase productivity” might be yes, it also takes some hard work to get there. It’s essential to create proactive strategies that work to deepen connections in the team. This will be more extensive than would be needed in an office where everyone bumps into each other as a matter of course.
If you can put strategies in place that increase productivity, the whole team can benefit. (So can the organization as a whole.) It makes it easier to set team goals and be sure they are met. Does remote work increase productivity? It can. In some cases, it can do so in huge ways. Just do the work to make sure it happens.