Research finds WFH can be less productive

New research suggests white collar workers may be more productive in the office than at home.
New research suggests white collar workers may be more productive in the office than at home.

Australian research has begun drilling down into the question of productivity during lockdown, with the initial results perhaps not quite what all workers want to hear.

It seems white-collar employees contribute more in the office than they do at home.

The productivity of new staff, in particular, drops steadily over a period of nine months when they're onboarded remotely, compared to those who physically start in the workplace.

The exception, according to the findings of a new study conducted by Sydney's Macquarie University, appears to come from working parents and other employees generally classified as more experienced.

However this cohort, especially when they self-select to work from home, were found to be logging an average 1.8 extra hours a day outside the traditional 9am-5pm compared to office-based colleagues.

The findings have been compiled by Bangkok-based international recruitment agency manager Ashley Alcock as part of his Macquarie Business School MBA research.

The work involved carrying out a blind field experiment involving sales professionals, with an initial pilot of 69 candidates in February this year.

Further data was then collected from offices in non-related fields including manufacturing, IT and logistics and trade in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

More than 250 participants in all were divided into six categories: those who self-selected to work either from home or the office, those forced to work either at home or the office, and new employees onboarded either at home or the office.

To reduce psychological factors affecting outcomes, the project focused on specific key indicators to analyse productivity rather than by conducting individual surveys.

It found employees who worked from home, whether forced or self-selected, showed decreased productivity over three to nine months, while those who self-selected to work from the office maintained productivity.

Both self-selected office and WFH groups were more productive than those groups that did not get to choose.

Of those who chose to work from home, working parents and experienced employees were the most productive.

Employees with less than 18 months' experience who worked from home were generally significantly less productive than peers with the same level of experience who remained at the office.

Mr Alcock's supervisor, economics professor Maros Servatka, says companies perhaps should be wary of basing work-from-home policies on productivity measured by analysis during the early stages of the pandemic.

"At first the productivity was relatively stable because there was some novelty to working from home and potentially a bit of fear because of so much uncertainty," he said.

"Companies were under a lot of stress, so people rightly were afraid of losing their jobs.

"Since the early productivity could be driven by the shock, we measured productivity over a longer period of time, and what Ashley's data shows is that after three months or so, there is a decrease in productivity."

Australian Associated Press