Ruling out the office, or reimagining it?

remote work

This was part of a great response from Annie Dean on LinkedIn in response to recent studies purportedly showing that remote working is less productive than working in a shared office. ‘Stop pitting offices against remote work,’ Annie said. She went on to say that she worked for a forward-thinking company that was in the process of redefining and redesigning the traditional office set up—a process that fully embraced remote working and which was finding the most optimum way of incorporating all working patterns in the hope of achieving greater productivity and a happy workforce.

The productivity of remote workers versus office workers is a multifaceted issue with no one-size-fits-all answer. The future of work lies in the flexibility to adapt to individual and organisational needs, harnessing the strengths of remote work while mitigating its challenges. As the world continues to evolve, so too will our understanding of how to optimise productivity in diverse work environments.

The impact of remote work on productivity varies widely depending on various factors, including the nature of the job, the industry, and the individual worker’s preferences and circumstances. Many studies have been commissioned, and whilst some indicate increased productivity for remote workers, others suggest the opposite.

Several factors play a significant role in determining remote work productivity:

Job autonomy: Research consistently shows that workers with higher levels of autonomy tend to be more productive in remote settings. Jobs that require creativity, problem-solving, and self-direction often see productivity gains when working remotely.

An effective leader instils autonomy in their team. This doesn’t mean they leave the individuals to it without looking back; instead, they allow the individuals to solve problems themselves in the first instance, as evidence shows this is a more effective way for many people to learn. After all, if a problem is taken out of employees’ hands, they’ll only find themselves in the same position when it next arises.

Autonomy eradicates micro-management and control issues, which formed the management approaches of yesteryear but are significantly less effective on today’s workforce. It also builds trust between leader and employee, another important factor in boosting productivity.

Technology and infrastructure: Access to high-speed internet, reliable hardware, and software tools is critical for remote work productivity. Companies that invest in supporting their remote workforce with the right technology tend to see better results.

Investing in systems that are appropriate for today’s demands not only makes employees’ lives easier but also demonstrates their employer’s commitment to flexible working.

Work-life balance: Remote work can blur the boundaries between work and personal life. Studies highlight that individuals with good work-life balance are more likely to be productive when working remotely. Employers promoting well-being and flexible schedules tend to have more satisfied and productive remote workers.

Being able to get ahead with personal and family tasks when they would otherwise be commuting, having a lunch break or a short coffee stop can help employees feel in greater control of their commitments across all aspects of their lives. Employees who feel better respected, better able to compartmentalise tasks, and better able to fit all claims on their time into their weekly routine will undoubtedly feel more productive and loyal to the company they work for.

Communication and collaboration: Effective communication and collaboration tools are essential for remote teams. Organisations that invest in robust communication platforms and encourage regular interaction among team members report higher levels of productivity.

There’s no doubt that it requires a different approach to lead and inspire team members when they’re working remotely. Leaders need to encourage open lines of communication, leveraging various tools and platforms to stay connected and maintain a sense of team cohesion. Set clear expectations, deadlines, and goals. Trust your team to deliver results, focus on their well-being, and provide support when needed. Emphasise flexibility and understand that remote work offers a different dynamic and be open to adapting to individual circumstances. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help everyone feel aligned and motivated, fostering a positive and productive remote work environment.

The downsides of remote working:

While remote work offers flexibility, it can also lead to burnout and mental health challenges if not managed properly. Research has shown that remote workers are more prone to burnout due to longer working hours and a lack of separation between work and personal life. Employers must be mindful of their employees’ well-being and implement strategies to combat burnout, such as setting clear boundaries and promoting regular breaks.

Some studies have also pointed out challenges that can hinder remote work productivity, including feelings of isolation, difficulty in maintaining team cohesion, and a lack of access to informal communication channels. Addressing these challenges is crucial for organisations looking to sustain remote work arrangements.

The hybrid work model:

Hybrid combines the benefits of both remote and office work, and it has gained traction as a potential solution. It allows employees to choose their work environment whilst maintaining access to the office for collaboration and social interaction.

A Microsoft study conducted in 2021 found that hybrid workers reported higher productivity compared to those who worked exclusively from the office or home. This suggests that allowing employees the flexibility to choose where they work can lead to optimal results.

However, that’s not to say that the hybrid model is the perfect solution. While it offers several advantages, it also presents potential downsides. One significant challenge is the risk of creating a two-tiered workforce, where those who work primarily in the office may have more opportunities for face-to-face interactions, visibility, and networking compared to their remote counterparts. This could lead to feelings of exclusion and hinder career growth for remote workers.

Additionally, managing a hybrid team can be complex, as it requires balancing the needs and preferences of both in-office and remote employees, potentially leading to logistical challenges and an increased workload for managers. Furthermore, maintaining a cohesive company culture and ensuring effective collaboration across physical and virtual spaces can be demanding, requiring careful planning. Lastly, the hybrid model can introduce a sense of unpredictability, as employees may have varying schedules and locations, making it harder to coordinate meetings and projects efficiently.

In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘perfect working model’. If working from the office was so effective and wonderful, employers and employees wouldn’t have waxed lyrical about remote working when the world went into lockdown. However, now that a few years have gone by since that point, we have discovered some downsides associated with exclusively remote work.

In 2023, the most effective working model for greater productivity within companies does point to a hybrid model, i.e. a flexible and adaptable approach that combines elements of remote and in-office work.

It’s not a case of pitting one against the other; as we’ve seen above, all working models have their downsides. However, there’s no doubt that flexibility is key here, as well as providing the most appropriate basis for each individual, all whilst exercising an appropriate leadership approach.

Our Jigsaw Discovery Tool is an innovative learning experience which provides powerful insights for all who take part, whatever their position in the company.  Understanding others and ourselves is hugely important for any team if it wants to build on its strengths, value the diversity of its members and turn differences into positive learning opportunities. Call 01924 898930 for more information or visit

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