Return-to-office mandates just got another vote in their favor: A new study says WFH results in 18% less productivity. – DAVID RAUDALES


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Return-to-office mandates just got another vote in their favor: A new study says WFH results in 18% less productivity.

A new study from economists at MIT and UCLA observed that data-entry workers were 18% less productive at home than they were in the office.

Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

A study from economists at MIT and UCLA found productivity dropped when people worked from home.
The study observed groups of data-entry workers in India working from home and from the office.
People who worked from home saw their productivity fall by 18%, the researchers said.

The debate on workers returning to the office could end up centering on a debate about productivity

Some workers argue they’re more productive working remotely. But some managers say employees are more productive when they’re in an office. And at an extreme, some people even contend that working from home should be looked down upon.

Now, one new study could add some clarity to the competing views: It suggests that people are more productive working from the office, which could be good news for managers and tech companies trying to bring their employees back in

In a working paper that’s being circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles, observed data-entry workers in Chennai, India, across two groups — those working from the office and those working from home — over test periods of eight weeks.  

The key finding? Those in the work-from-home group were 18% less productive than those working from the office. 

How is “productivity” measured? 

To gather subjects for the study, the researchers posted advertisements for entry-level data jobs in local newspapers, and ultimately observed a total of 235 workers, according to the study. These workers were then divided into two groups that were randomized across skill level and preference for working from home or the office — among other traits — and given identical tasks, resources, and goals. 

The report noted that both groups were also asked to work for approximately 35 hours a week. However, those working from home were given the flexibility to choose when they worked, while those coming into the office were restricted to a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. 

For those working from home, the researchers also took low-resolution pictures of the workers every 15 minutes through a camera built into a laptop they provided, to ensure they weren’t outsourcing their work. 

The main measure used to gauge productivity in the study was “net typing speed,” which the report defined as the number of correct entries typed per minute. The study also measured the “accuracy” of the workers by comparing the ratio of correct data entries to total data entries, along with idle times. 

Why data-entry workers? The report noted they’re ubiquitous across India, the job doesn’t require high-level skills, it can be easily performed in both remote and office settings, and collecting detailed measures of productivity and output for data-entry workers is a relatively straightforward process. 

It’s also worth noting that cultural norms in Chennai, India, are different from the US, UK, or other places. David Atkin, one of the authors of the study who spoke to Fortune about the research, explained that in developing countries like India, homes are more likely to be “smaller, more cramped and hot, and have noise pollution,” all of which are likely to affect productivity at home. 

Working from home can make communication more challenging

Still, one of the reasons remote workers could be less productive than their office counterpoints is because of challenges in communication that arise from virtual work. 

An earlier study of more than 60,000 staff members at Microsoft who transitioned from office work to remote work between December 2019 and June 2020 found that the employees became “more siloed, less dynamic” and weren’t able to form as many new connections compared to the pre-pandemic days. While people did form stronger connections with their immediate team members, the study found that they spent an average of 25% less time collaborating across groups. 

These types of communication challenges can be particularly problematic for younger workers. A recent survey found that some Gen Z and millennial workers are struggling to feel included in virtual meetings.

Ultimately, employees appear to be most content when they have flexibility around their schedule. Some of the happiest employees last year were the ones who were working in remote-hybrid roles. 

Nevertheless, this new data could bolster the case that some tech execs are making to bring people back into the office. In February, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy issued a mandate requiring corporate employees to spend at least three days a week in the office beginning May 1. And Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta has asked most workers to return to the office three days a week.

Read the original article on Business Insider