Remote Work Productivity Study Finds Surprising Reality: 2-Year Analysis

CHANDNI KAZI

Author

By Chandni Kazi and Claire Hastwell.

Pre-pandemic, only 5% of American employees worked from home. In May 2020, that number shot up to over 60%. Our own survey of Fortune 500 executives shows a similar increase, from 16% to 65% of staff working virtually.

This massive shift has stirred up questions about the future of work and most notably, about remote work productivity.

How productive is working from home?

Working from home is just as productive as working in the office – possibly more so. A two-year study by Great Place to Work® of more than 800,000 employees at Fortune 500 companies found that most people reported stable or even increased productivity levels after employees started working from home.

Remote work productivity study

To assess the productivity of working remote, we surveyed 715 companies, representing over 3 million U.S. employees. We analyzed over 800,000 responses and measured productivity using survey statements that examined the degree to which:

  • People are willing to give extra to get the job done
  • People quickly adapt to changes needed for their company’s success

The percent positives capture the percentage of people who responded “often true” or “almost always true” to both statements.

Does working from home increase productivity?

We measured employee productivity from March to August of 2020 – the first six months of stay-at-home orders – and compared it to the same six-month period in 2019. Results showed productivity had improved while working from home (see graph).

With daily commutes and lengthy in-person meetings eliminated, employees likely found they were able to get more done. However, the biggest impact on remote work productivity came from the same factors that influence in-person productivity: company culture and leadership.

How company culture influences remote work productivity

In the productivity study, we ran a comment analysis of employee survey responses to the open-ended question, “Is there anything unique or unusual about this company that makes it a great place to work?”

Interestingly, the most common phrase among people experiencing high productivity changed over time. In March-May the most common phrase was “catered lunches at home,” indicating the power of perks for increasing employee wellbeing and productivity.

However, in June to August, the most common phrase was “genuinely love.” Examples of these comments include:

  • “We are genuinely loved here!”
  • “I have never been so genuinely loved and cared for by a workplace. I truly feel connected to my co-workers and they’re one of the best parts of my day.”
  • “They are welcoming and open. Everyone that I talk to genuinely loves to be here every day, and that makes the hard stuff easier!”

From September to December, “positive atmosphere” was the most used phrase by employees to describe what makes their company a great place to work.

While perks may have bolstered employee productivity through the early months of working from home, it was camaraderie and positive culture that influenced longer-term productivity.

“Camaraderie is like a secret weapon. When employees experience the nexus of great work, a powerful mission, and shared values, productivity soars,” explained Julian Lute, Great Place to Work strategic advisor.

“Employees in great workplaces believe their co-workers see them as whole people, with family, hobbies, and passions that they bring to work each day. When relationships are strong, employees feel energized and bring their skills to the table to collaborate on organizational goals.”

In uncertain times, strong leadership is key to maintaining productivity and employee well-being

Other unique phrases among employees who worked productively from home were about leadership:

  • excellent leadership” and “outstanding leadership” from March to May
  • incredible leadership,” “culture leadership,” and “leadership understands” from June to August
  • incredible leadership” and “honest leadership” from September to December

Such comments reveal how much impact leadership can have on employee productivity. And in the midst of the pandemic and all its uncertainty, the power of great leadership was on full display.

“When times are tough, leaders have the greatest opportunity to build trust. Their ability to navigate the complexities of the business, communicate effectively, and bring people along is more visible,” said Julian.

“Consistent communication and supporting people in shifting work arrangements, all while taking care of customers, is a balancing act. But leaders who are vulnerable help employees to experience the workplace as supportive and caring.”

Why poor leadership kills remote work productivity

Despite the initial increase, productivity fell in the summer, declining sharply from May to August by 11 percentage points (see graph).

However, by September, productivity began to pick up slightly, rising to 80% in December 2020 from its lowest point of 76% in August.

Employees who dipped in summer may have had a spring of “toxic productivity” – an unhealthy compulsion to work, perhaps out of fear of layoff or a loss of work/life balance amid lockdown. And toxic productivity almost always comes from the top.

Between June and August – the least productive months – the comment “Hire leaders” was most repeated by unproductive employees under survey questions about what could make the workplace better.

For example:

  • “Hire leaders that are NOT top performers – they are not leaders, they are performers. There’s a difference. We need to start hiring leaders and people who can coach and motivate.”
  • “We need to hire leaders that have experience. We should choose experience over friends any day but that doesn’t always happen.”
  • “Hire leaders throughout the company with more backbone who are willing to stand up for employees and pay people what their time is worth, not just the bare minimum.”
  • “Train and hire leaders, not bosses.” 

“Employees expect their leaders to lead, make decisions and support their work,” said Julian.

“Leaders who do not prioritize trust contribute to uncertainty, inconsistent communication, and lack of collaboration during challenging times. People expect their leaders to be guides and help them understand the broader business environment.”

Read more about the importance of trustworthy managers during a crisis.

Protecting employees from job burnout

The Best Workplaces™ saw a return to healthy productivity levels in December. These companies kept tabs on their employees’ needs with pulse surveys throughout the pandemic, giving them insight into how to preserve employee well-being.

“After sustaining higher than usual productivity, we all had to find a ‘normal’ that was sustainable,” explained Laurie Minott, Great Place to Work senior strategic advisor and partner.

“Supportive workplaces were recognizing this around the time of the decline and doubling down on self-care, balance and support for parents with kids at home.”

Productivity of both in-person and remote work are influenced by the same key factors: leadership and healthy, supportive company culture. Workplaces that are strong in both can have high employee productivity no matter where their desks may be.

Are your employees productive and healthy while working from home?

Check in on your employees with our pulse survey – it measures care, collaboration, equity, engagement and 25 other measures of employee experience. Get a demo and see how our survey can help your employee experience today.

CHANDNI KAZI

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees