The Office Productivity Myth (& Why Productivity Isn’t Everything)

Still think the office is the best environment to keep your teams productive? What if we told you remote work is more conducive to productivity? And that productivity isn’t actually the be-all and end-all for creating a successful, long-lasting company?

The Office Productivity Myth (& Why Productivity Isn’t Everything)
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After two years of work-from-home mandates, businesses are reopening their office doors with gusto. While many have adopted a hybrid approach, some of the more outspoken office aficionados seem to be intimated by the notion of flexible working, opting instead for a full-time return to the office.

For many, the fear of a loss in productivity has driven them to prioritize the office over remote work. In fact, our recent Work from Anywhere report revealed almost half of managers think employees need the office to stay productive. But, the truth is, that’s not always the case.

You Don’t Need an Office to Foster Productivity

Returning to the office is comfortable; it’s the way we’ve done things for decades. But it’s certainly not a necessity for productivity.

Sure, your workers may look busy jumping between meetings from 9-5, but the truth is, back-to-back meetings don’t equal productivity. They never have.

And while 44% of managers told us the office is essential for employee productivity, it turns out employees don’t agree. A report by Own Labs revealed that 90% of respondents who worked from home during the pandemic said they were as or more productive working remotely.

So why the apparent disconnect between management and employees? Is this simply a difference of perception, or is there empirical data we can look to support either position?

Let’s consider the office environment to start. It’s an environment known to be full of productivity-sapping distractions. Whether it’s background noise, unrelenting meetings, drive-by management requests, or that colleague who just needs a minute of your time (that inevitably turns into 30), interruptions are rife in the office, and they’re shown to be highly detrimental to productivity.

Remote work isn’t always distraction-free, but it does offer employees the flexibility to find the right times and places for high-quality, focused work. Telecommuters aren’t tied to an office, so they can switch it up, working at home one day, a co-working space the next, and a quiet cafe the day after. They can explore what works best for them and their productivity. What’s more, if you opt for asynchronous working practices, distractions are further reduced, leaving more time for “deep work” - where the magic happens.

Then there’s the commute. The long slog into the office isn’t just crushing our souls; it’s crushing our productivity too. A study from Harvard Business School measured the number and quality of patented inventions by high-tech inventors. It revealed that for every 10 kilometers of added travel distance to the workplace, the firm employing those inventors registered 5% fewer patents and a quality drop of 7%. To sum it up, commuting is bad for your bottom line - and your staff’s wallets too. This is particularly true when you consider the ever-increasing hard costs associated with a commute: gas, tolls, fees and fares, maintenance, taxes, insurance, etc.

Finally, work-life balance plays an integral role in an employee’s ability to be productive, in addition to their retention. The better it is, the more productive your teams will be. It makes complete sense; when someone has more time for rest and the things they love, they’ll be more engaged during work hours. And according to recent research, working from home makes it easier for most to find that balance.

While some say remote work blurs the line between professional and personal life, the culture you create can reinstate those boundaries. A flexible culture rooted in trust empowers your team to find a better balance, encouraging them to fit work around their lives - not the other way around.

But Productivity Isn’t The Single Key to Business Success

Productivity is just one indicator of business health, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. After all, a high output doesn’t necessarily equate to quality output; it’s not always a volume game. An overemphasis on productivity could even harm your business.

Humans can’t be productive all the time. Worse, if we have too much pressure to be productive, it’ll likely backfire. Instead, we need time to observe, wonder, and daydream in order to do our most creative and innovative work. And that’s the work that will help you fly ahead of your competitors - not work that prioritizes getting anything and everything out as soon as possible.

Fortunately, remote work seems to be the ideal setup for innovation. According to Catalyst’s 2021 report, employees who have access to remote work options are 63% more likely to report often or always being innovative than those who don’t. They’re also more engaged and committed to their company.

With workers pushing back on office returns and demanding more flexible options, rallying your employees back into your headquarters won’t fare you well. The Great Resignation is real, and you’ll likely end up losing great talent - and disengaging those who remain.

So productivity shouldn’t be your entire focus. Instead, you need to take a holistic approach to performance, investing in engagement, well-being, culture, and a healthy work-life balance too.

Yes, remote work can help boost productivity, but more importantly, it’ll help you secure intelligent, passionate, and engaged people to drive your mission forward in new and exciting ways.

For meaningful ways to help boost your remote team’s productivity, performance, and engagement check out our guide here.

Want More Future of Work Insights?

We partnered with relocation provider PerchPeek to discover how employers from across the globe are adopting “work from anywhere” policies. Our report uncovers the challenges businesses are facing as they consider new working styles and how they’re overcoming them.

In the report, we shed light on:

  • Hybrid and remote working trends.
  • The role of the office in a post-pandemic world.
  • Communication and collaboration in hybrid and remote teams.
  • Global employment challenges and solutions.

Read our Work from Anywhere report now.

Kate Gray

Kate has been working in the People space with start-ups and scale-ups for nearly 15 years. First in Executive Search, then a tech consultancy and venture builder, and more recently consulting to high growth people-centered start-ups in London. She is passionate about building environments where employees can do their best work, without geographical or cultural limitations, and have fun doing it! She gained a degree in Physics before getting the bug of helping companies deliver their mission through their greatest asset - their people!

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