Are remote workers more productive? We’ve checked all the research so you don’t have to

Are remote workers more productive? We've checked all the research so you don't have to

There is barely a hotter question for both companies and knowledge workers today than this: are remote employees better at getting the job done than office-based teams?

Тhe pondering is valid as finding truly productive remote workers and running a remote team often proves challenging. It’s only natural that employers wonder if remote workers are really more productive.

Well, we’ve been asked this question many times, so we thought it was about time to turn to science to find a data-backed answer.

What’s the real story with remote employees’ productivity?

We found out that telecommuting is the global trend in innovating work and that many prominent companies have proven the remote working model can and does work.

But most of all, we examined eight different factors relating to workers’ productivity, basing our study on tens of different resources.

And guess what? From performance to engagement, all studies point out remote workers are indeed more productive than their office counterparts. Let us take you through the top data that proves your employees are truly on top of their game.

Is it true that remote employees are more productive? We set out to find the data-backed answer Click To Tweet

Here are the reasons that make remote workers more productive

A number of different studies conducted by both big companies and civil society organizations show that employees working remotely are, indeed, more productive.

The most important findings include performing better and faster the same type of jobs as office workers, taking less sick leave, and working during sick days from home. Distributed team members also show better engagement with the work and report higher levels of personal satisfaction and happiness, which also can feed in the loop of their productivity.

Even skeptical studies on telecommuting, such as the ones done by the California State Polytechnic University, prove that productivity gains from remote work are no less than 10%.

So, how do we know remote workers are truly more productive? Well…

All studies point out that remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts Click To Tweet

They perform better

Let’s start with the hard facts about productivity – employees’ performance. After all, this might as well be the most crucial indicator for employers when assessing remote workers’ productivity levels.

The most prominent study on remote workers’ performance is the one conducted by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom and other scholars in 2012-2013. The Work From Home (WFH) experiment was done at CTrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency.

16,000 call center employees volunteered for it. The 9-month study showed a 13% performance increase in remote workers’ productivity. Nine percent of it consisted of working more time per shift, meaning fewer sick leaves and breaks, and another 4% – more calls per minute. The latter is said to be due to the less distracting and noisy environment.

Another study, this time from the U.S., showed a 35% increase in employee productivity. Best Buy introduced a flexible work program for its employees and documented the performance jump.

They report higher levels of productivity

Not only external studies point to the higher productivity of remote workers. 65% of workers report they are more productive when not in the office. This means that telecommuters themselves notice the difference.

A ConnectSolutions remote working report states that fewer distractions at work can lead to increased productivity. 30% of the survey respondents said that working away from the cubicle allows them to achieve more in fewer hours, while another 24% said they accomplish more in the same amount of time. 77% of remote workers reported higher productivity.

They take less sick leave

One of the findings of the important Stanford’s WFH experiment showed that 9% of the 13% performance boost of remote workers came from working more minutes during their shifts. The major reason behind this is taking fewer breaks and sick leaves.

In fact, not only do remote employees take fewer days off because of sickness, but they also work during sick days from home. According to Softchoice’s Infographic The Death Of The Desk Job about 57% of telecommuting workers do that.

They log more hours

Another interesting finding about remote work coming from Gallup’s study State of the American Workplace is that employees working from home log four more hours per week than their colleagues in the office. AT&T workers also log more hours when working away from the office – five hours more per week.

Employees working from home log four more hours per week than their colleagues in the office Click To Tweet

Because of the flexibility that working from a distance allows, employees are also more likely to spread their work throughout the day in different ways. For example, they are more likely to work after business hours.

Ryan Robinson, a content marketer that works 100% remotely with his clients agrees. He shares, “Being fully remote with my clients gives me the permission to work during my peak hours of the day—which tend to be extremely early. The hours from 5:00am – 11:00am are when I get my best work done, and in previous jobs that time would often go to waste simply because it wasn’t the norm. Choosing to start freelancing and work with clients in a capacity that allows for a more flexible work schedule has been one of the best decisions I’ve made for the quality of my own output.”

They are more engaged

The same Gallup study also found that remote workers appear to be more engaged with their work than office employees – 32% against 28%. Some of the reasons pointed out by the Harvard Business Review include the fact that proximity does not always lead to quality conversations and that when people are absent from the office, they put more effort in reconnecting with the rest when they are back.

They are better at collaboration

Employers often cite collaboration as the main reason not to allow employees to work remotely. However, employee productivity statistics statistics show that not being in the office does not hurt team communication and achieving common goals. 54% of U.S. remote workers said they still want to keep communicating and networking with their colleagues even when not in the office.

Plus, one of the main distractions in the workplace comes from random talks with co-workers who are passing by other employees’ desks. Many workers try to minimize these distractions by communicating via email or instant messaging even when together in the office. In fact, remote workers feel more connected with their work and their colleagues because they use video conferencing.

And… (drumroll)… They are happier with their jobs

Last but not least, let’s consider some numbers on job satisfaction and personal happiness. While the connection between them and productivity is an elusive one, it’s worth considering whether remote work benefits employees’ well-being.

The most common benefits connected with remote workers’ higher levels of satisfaction include the flexibility giving them more freedom of choice, decreased levels of stress, as well as more sleep and less commuting or driving.

While there is conflicting information on the issue, remote work is also said to help achieve a better work-life balance. This is especially important for millennials who are fast becoming the major part of and are shaping the U.S. workforce.

The Stanford University WFH study showed self-reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with their work and potentially lower employee turnover as a result of that. Other studies also show that after working remotely for 3-5 years, employees report higher levels of satisfaction and happiness with their jobs.

There is, potentially, a link between better physical and mental health and remote work, which also feeds into employees’ overall work and personal satisfaction. Thus, while employee happiness might sound vague and far-fetched, its implications on the productivity and behavior of workers can be manyfold.

Employers even save money from remote work

While companies’ financial savings are not related to employee productivity, it is still worth to mention what benefits employers get from remote work, as they add up to the increased productivity at work. According to a Cisco study, the company saved $277 million per year from telecommuting employees. Global Workplace Analytics found out that $11,000 are saved per person per year if employees work half of the time away from the office.

The biggest savings come from real estate costs (needing a smaller office space and furniture expenses. Another important financial factor for employers is that remote workers are not prevented from doing their job during bad weather, but office employees can’t get to their work desks, which means lost money for the company. After all, employees working from home saved the federal government $32 million during four official snow days in 2014.

How do remote teams measure their employees’ productivity?

On the basis of a number of studies, it’s a safe bet to claim that remote workers are really productive – even more so than their office counterparts.

But one issue still remains unsolved, and it is how companies measure remote employees’ productivity.

Why is this so important? Because employers need to make informed decisions how and when to allow the option for remote work. It’s also crucial to illustrate to decision-makers, board members that introducing working from distance definitely does not hurt productivity. Instead, it boosts it.

So, how can companies measure the productivity of their remote workers? Remote.co conducted a study with top remote teams. Here are some of the highlights on how they evaluate and promote the efficiency of their remote staff:

  • Setting clear metrics for each team member
  • Setting short-term goals (daily or weekly)
  • Monitoring if tasks are completed in time
  • Hold regular team meetings to align on goals, plans, and problems
  • Quality of the work
  • Feedback from 360-degree reviews
  • Feedback from clients
  • Performance reviews
  • Focusing on results accomplished rather than time tracked
  • Tracking activity levels and work screenshots
  • Receiving a score on completed work
  • Tracking challenges that have been overcome

Using a few of these productivity factors in a structured way can greatly help companies with remote workers to keep tabs on their productivity. In turn, this can help the legitimacy of telecommuting and take it out of the gray zone for companies around the world.

Convinced that remote work is the way to go?

Are remote employees really more productive? We’d say definitely yes. How do you see productivity when telecommuting? What’s your experience as a remote worker or a manager of remote employees?

  • Jason Hamilton

    My concern with much of this data is the failure to precisely define “working remotely”, when almost all studies cited such as Ctrip and the Chinese study were really studing people who “often work remotely” or “work remotely *most* days of the week” (but not all). There are some studies that show a decline when the percentage of time worked from home gets to high, and I have found almost no studies that actually look at 100% remote workers. These articles should correctly read “Are People Who Often Work from Home More Productive?”. From what I see, it’s still unclear on the 100% remote situation. And is productivity really a measure of success? Are they productively working the right direction? I’m not saying they’re not, I just can’t find any info that actually answers these questions even though that is how everything is worded. Cheers!

    • Dann Albright

      You bring up a good point—defining terms is a crucial part in representing data. Unfortunately, there’s no consensus, really, on any of these terms (at least as far as I’m aware). That makes it rather difficult to compare different studies. We avoided that particular hornet’s nest and just reported the facts that we found.

      But you’re right—looking at 100% remote workers could make a difference in the findings.

      As for productivity as a measure of success . . . it’s definitely not. But it’s a lot easier to measure. “Success” is a rather nebulous term, whereas productivity is a bit more widely agreed upon (though difficult in its own way). “The right direction,” again, is tough. And that’s probably something that people have to deal with on an individual level. We reported more general trends because that’s often what people want to know: is letting people work remotely bad because they won’t get as much done? If you can’t trust them to get the RIGHT stuff done, you should be asking entirely different questions.

  • Very well said. Overusing our brain is counterproductive. Another good way of recharging the brain is power napping. One can get benefits from a 15-minute power nap – it resets alertness and it refreshes memory, giving us enough energy to finish our work. Many companies are now recognizing the benefits of power napping. Today, workplaces that have nap rooms on site are growing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dann Albright

      I’m a big fan of power napping! And seeing as I work from home, I always have a nap room available. 🙂 In all seriousness, though, brain burnout is a big problem, and a lot of people don’t realize that they need to schedule some time just to get organized and think. It makes a big difference.

    • Dann Albright

      I’m a big fan of power napping! And working from home, I always have a nap room available. 🙂 But in all seriousness, brain burnout is a bit issue, and a lot of people don’t realize it. Getting enough rest and taking time just to get organized and do some thinking is hugely valuable.

  • Our company WAHVE is a virtual company I have worked and managed remote workers from much of my professional career – couldn’t agree more with the the conclusions. Spot on!