Does remote working make you more productive and dynamic?
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Does remote working make you more productive and dynamic?

So, I did a poll and 156 people replied. 66% believed that the answer is an absolute "yes", while just 22% said "no".

8 October 2021

I thought I would ask my LinkedIn connections this question. So, I did a poll and 156 people replied. 66% believed that the answer is an absolute "yes", while just 22% said "no". The remaining 12% believed that remote working made no difference.

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The results are very interesting. The majority of people believe that they are more productive and dynamic while working remotely. I was expecting a more even split between the two camps, but at the same time it doesn't surprise me. The vast majority of conversations I have these days with candidates usually involve at least one question about "flexible working". It has become a must have for an employment package.

For now, what I want to do is explore whether workers are more productive and dynamic while working remotely. So, let's dig a bit deeper and address some of the arguments from both sides to see if they hold up.

Arguments from those who said "no"

So here it goes. The problem with remote working is that communication breaks down between teams, which then affects productivity. It's also not a substitute for one-to-one interactions between teams in real life. There are certain synergies that workers enjoy when being together. There is subconscious body language and other forms of communication that can help a team bond.

The other big issue is the loneliness factor. Working remotely is fine if you have a family and your life is already busy. But if you're single it can also be quite a lonely experience.

This was one of the arguments made in relation to younger workers. They felt abandoned. In some instances, graduates never stepped inside the office of the company that hired them. Many of them felt isolated and left out. It's very difficult for them to understand a company’s corporate culture if they've never actually been inside the office.

On the topic of productivity, this is just a matter of economics and numbers. When the pandemic struck, many workers were left unemployed. Then the recovery kicked in and companies scrambled to rehire. The problem is that at present companies just cannot hire fast enough to match the pent-up demand unleashed following the end of the pandemic lockdowns.

Subsequently, there are fewer employees but more work, which is why productivity levels have increased. What we are actually seeing is a severe labour shortage at a time when the economy needs to recover. You could argue that workers are therefore not more productive and dynamic – they are just being forced to work harder.

Arguments for those who said "yes"

I have to say, the "no" camp is convincing, but I don’t buy into it completely. The big problem is that a lot of these arguments are very theoretical. They may not also be reflective of the experience that most employees have had. Let's address a few issues that support the idea that the workplace is now more productive and dynamic now that workers have the option to work flexibly from home.

One of the common complaints I've heard is that there are too many distractions in the office. There's too much chitchat and idle banter. Conversely, you could argue that this is important for idea generation and social bonding. But on the other hand, it's also hard to be productive if you're constantly socialising with your colleagues.

The other issue is that the office environment is designed for a particular type of employee. For instance, working 9-to-5 works very well for men and those without families. It's much more difficult to work in an office if you are a working mother, or you have disabilities, or you just live far away in the cheaper part of town.

What flexible and remote working can offer is greater diversity in the workplace. It also means that those who were previously excluded from office culture (the ones that never fitted in) now have an opportunity to shine.

Although we mentioned that loneliness is one of the downsides with working remotely, there are also a whole range of different mental illnesses associated with the office culture. This can include depression, stress and anxiety, which are all bad for a worker’s health.

So where do we stand?

I think the problem is that everyone is different. There are those that work better in an office and those that don't. Many of the people who I have met that prefer working in an office believe that there is less distractions from home and they have a greater ability to focus on what they are doing. It also breaks up the muddling of home life and work life.

By contrast, some workers need to be able to work flexibly in order to be productive. A working mother may need to prepare lunch for their children at lunchtime, or pick them up from school, or take them to after-school events. The added flexibility means that they can fit their work life around their commitments.

There are also some individuals that just work better at different times of the day. There are morning people and night owls. Their productivity levels differ depending what time of the day it is.

I believe there is no clear answer to this question. It's not the actual answer that people give that matter, but the emotional response that can clearly be seen. There is a strong desire by most workers to have the flexibility to work in a remote setting, simply because it makes them happier.

Happiness itself can have a huge impact on a worker's productivity. It can also help them to be more enthusiastic about what they do, which naturally makes them more dynamic.

Luca Semeraro

Head of Badenoch & Clark
Zurich, Switzerland

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