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Remote workers are less productive than those in the office: study

More employers are pushing for workers to return to the office in a hybrid role or full-time.
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

  • A new study looks at the productivity of remote workers versus those in-office.
  • It showed that productivity dropped by 18% among a group of workers randomly assigned to WFH. 
  • More employers are pushing for workers to return to the office in a hybrid role or full-time.

New research shows that people who work from home could be less efficient than their in-office equivalents. 

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that the productivity of workers randomly assigned to work from home was 18% lower than those in the office.

The study focused on the productivity of data entry workers in the south Indian city of Chennai, owing to their ability to carry out the jobs’ tasks remotely. 

Workers who stayed at home were snapped every 15 minutes by an in-built laptop camera to ensure they weren’t outsourcing their jobs. 

The study measured the number of correct entries per minute as its primary metric, titled “net speed,” finding those that worked from home had a net speed 18% worse than their office-working colleagues. 

According to the report, two-thirds of the drop in productivity was evident from day one, while the remainder was due to office workers learning more quickly than WFH employees over time.  

Working from home became the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for many the habit sustained itself even as restrictions unwound. This is particularly true for high earners, per McKinsey.

According to data from a survey published by Pew Research in March, 35% of US employees that can do their jobs remotely are working from home full-time. 

But some employers are beginning to fight back against the work-from-home trend. 

Earlier this week, ex-NYC Mayor and cofounder of Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg, said federal employees shouldn’t work from home because it negatively impacts customer service.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan kickstarted a trend across Wall Street to instill a back-to-office mandate for its managing directors. Several other companies are requiring at least a hybrid model for their workers.

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