Does working from home affect productivity?

It boosts productivity on individual tasks, but might hurt teamwork.

Some workers get more done when they're at home. Call center workers take more calls with no cost to customer satisfaction, patent reviewers review more patents with no drop in quality. WFH programs are a good match for desk-based roles with mostly independent tasks.

For roles that require a lot of teamwork, though, the story is more complicated.

Offering occasional WFH can increase workers' productivity with no downside for their teams. For instance, a "smart-work" program at a large Italian company let employees work from anywhere, at any time one day per week. Employees who were randomly assigned to participate became more productive, and there weren't any negative spillover effects for their in-office colleagues.

But fully remote work doesn't seem like the best arrangement for teams. Without the opportunities for quick, informal chats that offices provide, fully remote teams spend more time on calls and end up with less time for focused work. As a result, workers take more time to produce the same output.

There's some evidence that investing in better communication technology and home office setups would improve productivity, and some companies are already doing that. So, any immediate hit to productivity caused by working from home during the pandemic might shrink, or even reverse, over time. In the meantime, the safest bet is to offer WFH for independent work and on an occasional, flexible basis for teams.

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