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Are Teleworkers More Productive Than In-Office Workers?

by Keith Fentress / July 16, 2020

I remember my first job out of grad school. I was so excited to have a paycheck and a dedicated office. Most of my friends worked in cubicles, so it didn’t even matter to me that my office didn’t have a window to the outside world.

I also remember commuting to work in heavy traffic one hour each way. And I remember the endless stream of interruptions due to impromptu meetings and coworkers coming by my office to ask questions or just to talk. The interruptions were so frequent that I tried shutting my door and even taped a poster over the window in my door (I did have one of those windows) in an attempt to get more work accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for collaboration – just not in my doorway!

After about six months of commuting and office distractions, I was itching for an opportunity to work from home. I knew my productivity would skyrocket if I could just get the chance. My fiancée at the time (now my wife) took one for the team – she got injured and someone needed to care for her for several weeks. That was the opportunity I had been waiting for! I purchased a portable computer and printer, set up a base of operations in her living room, and I have been teleworking ever since. That was in 1988!

For me, telework provides the ability to have large blocks of uninterrupted time to work, which enables me to really get into the flow of focused work. It is precisely this flow that, in my opinion, makes teleworkers more productive than employees who work daily in an office.

Fast Forward to Today

Organizations have turned to widespread telework as a key component in keeping employees safe and businesses running during the pandemic. Many are noticing that, after the initial adjustment to working from home, remote employees have maintained or increased productivity. At the same time, expensive office space that was considered essential is sitting vacant.

Based on an MIT survey conducted in April 2020, it’s estimated that nearly half of the American workforce is working from home. But if you manage teleworkers, you likely have some valid concerns about productivity. Will my employees be productive without the supervision they received in the office? Will they focus on their work given all the distractions at home?

The following section demonstrates that you don't have to worry. Your team can be self-motivated, dedicated, and focused.

Are Remote Workers More Productive?

A study of the daily tasks of over 1,000 full-time employees found three key points:

1. Remote workers take more breaks in their workday than in-office workers (an average 22 minutes a day compared to 18 minutes) and the breaks are helping them stay more focused overall on work.

2. Remote workers report less unproductive time in their day (an average of 27 unproductive minutes per day for teleworkers compared to 37 minutes a day for in-office employees). Those ten extra minutes per day add up over time.

3. Teleworkers work more hours than their in-office counterparts, averaging 1.4 additional days a month or 16.8 days a year.

The conclusion is that remote workers work longer hours, take more breaks during the day to keep their minds fresh, and focus more on their work. These patterns are healthy for employees and employers alike.

Here are some additional findings about remote workers:

· More flexibility allows for independent decision-making that strengthens employee drive.

· Telework employees tend to live healthier lifestyles (perhaps it's the ability to pet Fido at a moment's notice)!

These two factors, autonomy and work-life balance, are highly motivating to remote workers.

Health Benefits of Working Remotely During COVID-19

The obvious benefit of remote work during the pandemic is that working from home protects employees from the spread of germs and illness.

For this reason, formerly in-office employees who have now worked virtually may be skeptical about returning to work, unsure if mingling with coworkers will keep them healthy and safe.

Remote work has helped flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID, as well as the flu, common cold, etc. After all, prior to the pandemic, an astounding 90 percent of employees admitted to going to work while sick. Working from home protects everyone which leads to fewer sick days and increased productivity.

A Look at Telework Management Best Practices

If the bottom line is that telework employees tend to be more productive, you may be wondering how to optimize your operations. If you can’t physically check in on your team and hold regular face-to-face meetings, how can you keep everyone on track?

One key to managing teleworkers is to help them set up a healthy schedule and structure. Ask employees to set a schedule around core business hours and stick to it. Encourage employees to take breaks when they need to, and encourage a healthy work-life balance.

Hold regular one-on-one talks with your team members, as well as group meetings via Zoom or other videoconferencing services.

Encourage your team to set realistic goals (especially in the beginning stages of transitioning), and then monitor those goals on at least a weekly basis. What's working, and what's not? Answer that question and change your approach as needed.

It's also crucial to be transparent about at-home distractions. Talk to your team about their struggles and provide actionable solutions. As their manager, it's your job to provide guidance if you believe distractions are impacting their performance.

More Tips on How to Keep Telework Employees Engaged and Motivated

In addition to hosting work-related meetings, you could also consider hosting casual hangouts. In doing so, you can play games online through screen-sharing (such as Jeopardy or Scattergories) or host a virtual happy hour. Having casual get-togethers via the Internet will make your team feel more connected with you and each other.

Be open and available for communication. You can set guidelines for yourself (i.e., a promise to respond within two hours to any team inquiries) and stick to them, which will help your employees feel connected. They should be motivated to solve problems on their own, but also encouraged to reach out if they need to.

In addition to being connected through their work efforts, you can foster personal connections by sending out short surveys about their favorite TV shows, vacation dreams, etc. and posting the responses in an open format. In doing so, your team can have a little fun while learning more about each other.

Should You Encourage the Switch to Remote Work? All Signs Point to "Yes"

Remote workers are not only more productive, but they're happier and healthier, too. Adapting your company culture to incorporate telework (either part-time or full-time) may be both a strategic and beneficial move for your organization.

If you have any questions or concerns along the way, feel free to contact us. We look forward to helping organizations transition to telework!

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Tags: Telework

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include organizational development, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.