Is Home-Based Work Productive? Or Not?

Rick McCartney

According to Cynthia Spraggs, this recent NPR article isn’t about Zoom meetings at all. It is about whether home-based work is productive or not.

“There are a lot of spurious statistics from low sample sizes. If employees are fatigued by being on video all day (honestly what a nightmare), you can make this better by reconsidering the webcam,” says Spraggs. “Clearly, if you’re a company mandating Zoom meetings, that’s the first issue – because you are mandating people be on camera and that just isn’t a productive way to work – it is also distracting to have to stare at a bunch of talking heads.”

“The Vocon study surveyed 50 company executives who employ over 485,000 people. If these are average 10,000 person firms, they are also not representative of the global firms and may not have been set up for virtual work at all – meaning their results may have been worse.  A better question would be to ask – which sectors and company sizes are best-suited to virtual work? What percentage of employees can work remotely full time? What does “loss in productivity mean”? If it means that projects are failing, that’s because you cannot manage remote teams using brick and mortar methods or with a bunch of people totally exhausted by video calls. You just can’t. You need people to keep teams accountable and on track – whether they are working from distributed offices – or from distributed homes.”

“Of course, you are going to see lower productivity from a completely unplanned migration from the office to the home for work.  And the implementation of video calls for everything. Extroverts are going to be miserable, and on top of this, people are not only working from home but home-schooling children – with home environments not designed for optimal work.”

“The other study by LUCID doesn’t really provide compelling evidence for virtual work and productivity.  63% of employees did not rank in-person team collaboration as number one. And only about 10% of workers missed face time with their team. Only 18% don’t have dedicated workspaces.  Interesting.  I guess it is how you read the data. The reason they are not creative, is that they don’t have non-meeting time booked into their calendars – and likely don’t use online creative tools to figure things out.  Also, they are likely completely exhausted by being on video all day.”

“When asked what would be most exciting about returning to the office, 37% of employees ranked in-person team collaboration as number one, twice as many as the next option (a dedicated workspace without at-home distractions). Nearly 1 in 4 remote workers says that working from home has hurt their creativity, and almost half of that group (46%) identified less face time with their team as the number one cause.”

Cynthia Spraggs is the author of How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done: 50 Tips for Leaders and Professionals to Work Remotely and Outperform the Office. She is CEO of Virtira, a completely virtual company that focuses on remote team performance. Before taking leadership of the company in 2011, Spraggs worked with large consulting and tech companies while completing her MBA and research into telecommuting.

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