Remote working is good for productivity, so why don’t bosses believe the data?
- As demand for remote and hybrid working grows, managers need to be retrained to stop focusing on employee presence and learn to trust the actual data
- In China, remote work can help address the pernicious 996 culture and counter the burnout that leads to young people ‘lying flat’
Half of all business leaders believe that, when employees are working “out of sight”, they don’t work as hard. Yet this belief contradicts the facts.
A more recent study from the Covid-19 era with random assignment of employees either to fully office-centric work or to some days worked remotely by Trip.com, China’s largest travel company, found that the hybrid workers had 35 per cent less attrition and that lines of code written increased by 8 per cent.
A study using employee monitoring software confirmed that the shift to remote work during the pandemic improved productivity by 5 per cent. More recent research from Stanford University showed that remote work efficiency increased throughout the pandemic, with workers reporting 5 per cent greater efficiency from home than in the office in May 2020, rising to 9 per cent in May this year. That’s because we learned how to be better at remote working.
So why do half of all business leaders ignore the data? The key lies in how they evaluate performance: based on what they can see.
Even before the pandemic, the focus on presence in the office undermined effective remote working arrangements. Thus, researchers found that remote employees who work just as hard and just as long as those in the office in similar jobs may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller pay rises and fewer promotions.
The problem here is proximity bias, which in this case describes how managers have an unfair preference for and higher ratings of employees who go into the office, compared with those who work remotely, even if the remote workers show higher productivity.
A Society for Human Resource Management survey last June found that 48 per cent of respondents will “definitely” seek a full-time remote position in their next job. To get them to stay at a hybrid job with a 30-minute commute, employers would have to offer a 10 per cent pay rise and, for a full-time job with the same commute, a 20 per cent pay rise.
To succeed in an increasingly hybrid and remote future will require retraining managers to address the proximity bias and evaluate performance based on productivity. Companies will have to teach them to trust the data over their gut feeling.
Dr Gleb Tsipursky is CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, and author of Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage