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The effect of remote work on employee productivity

Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world of work. As the famous saying goes, “Modern problems require modern solutions.” While remote work-a work arrangement that permits employees to work outside an organisation’s physical workplace- is not a recent phenomenon, the ability to leverage management practices and digital technologies during the pandemic accelerated a profound global adoption. Is remote work a sustainable work arrangement during a pandemic and beyond? How about its effect on employee productivity?

Modern-day remote work roots in 1973 by Jack Nilles, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineer, in his book; The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff. As employees work remotely, assessing productivity has become a topical issue, as “perceived productivity” does not always equate to actual productivity on the job. This article aims to critique the effect of remote work on employee productivity.

Thriving in a remote work environment demands a refreshed application of skills, such as working independently, strong communication, collaboration, adaptability, and time management

Employee productivity refers to the total value/output an employee creates within a time frame or commensurate metric. Employee productivity is critical to organisational success. According to KPMG’s 2020 survey on The Future of HR in the New Reality, Human Resource executives’ second most critical capability is “managing performance and productivity in a predominantly remote environment.”

While the methods for assessing employee productivity vary by organisation and industry, they are influenced by the work environment, training and development, and clearly defined goals and objectives.

The effect of remote work on employee productivity is a double-edged sword. A workplace study led by researchers at the University of California revealed that the typical office worker is interrupted, on average, every 3 minutes and 5 seconds, with roughly 50% of interruptions being self-induced. Consequently, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the task; leading to stress, frustration, and time pressure.

Remote work arrangements create opportunities for flexibility, less commuting costs, fewer office-related distractions, and increased autonomy for employees. By no means exhaustive, effective remote work requires self-discipline, being organised, and collaborative to get work done. In return, it builds trust in the workplace and challenges the ideologies; “Out of sight, out of mind”, “If I do not see my employees working, are they being productive?”

Read also: Top 10 skills employers are looking for in 2022

Thriving in a remote work environment demands a refreshed application of skills, such as working independently, strong communication, collaboration, adaptability, and time management while leveraging digital technologies. While this may not necessarily pose a challenge to existing, experienced employees pre-pandemic, entry-level hires may have to learn the ropes in a predominantly virtual environment and show active curiosity to have the proper exposure, be innovative, align with an organisation’s system, and excel on the job.

Humans are predominantly social beings who crave interactions with peers, families, and friends. As remote work requires employees to collaborate on virtual platforms, the division between life and work tends to blur and could become socially isolating, prompting employees to crave physical interactions to boost their mental health and overall productivity.

A two-year remote-work productivity study conducted by Stanford University on employees at Ctrip, a 16,000 employee, NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency, revealed that employees who worked from home were 13% more productive, and attrition rates fell by over 50%. Interestingly, 49% of volunteers in this study declined an opportunity to work from home full-time, citing instances of loneliness, social isolation, and the probable negative impact of remote work on the promotion rate. Perhaps, a hybrid model is well-suited for Ctrip.

Remote work is not a fad. Organisations should not be too quick to dismiss a remote work arrangement, nor be too quick to adopt it entirely either. Realistically, not all jobs can be done remotely. There is a pertinent need for organisations to ensure stakeholder engagement in creating suitable and efficient human resource policies and strategies that offer employees a greater sense of purpose, ensure employee productivity, work-life harmony and align with the overall corporate vision, mission, values, and strategy. This, I believe, will aid transform “The Great Attrition” into “The Great Attraction.” The future of work is now.

Shittu is a Lagos-based, budding strategy consultant with varying interests and experience in the Consumer market, and Energy and Natural Resources Sector. You may contact him through https://www.linkedin.com/in/ismailshittu/.

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