Is remote work to blame for the UK’s dwindling productivity?

31 October 2023

When Zoom mandated workers back to the office for two days a week, the irony wasn’t lost on many of us. None-the-less, the trend of encouraging ‘structured hybrid working’, to include significant face-to-face working, is hard to ignore. First Amazon and Meta, then Zoom, along with many others not big enough to hit the headlines.

Until this year, the evidence around remote work productivity has largely been positive, with employee sentiment backing up the rationale to maintain flexible working. But a counter argument is starting to immerge and when the world’s leader of video conference software acknowledges the value of regular in-office working, even the most avid remote worker advocate has reason to pause for thought.

So, what’s the data telling us?

16% of companies worldwide are 100% remote

2023 Find Stack

By the start of 2023 there were some clearly immerging benefits of remote work. Not only could a ‘work from anywhere’ policy mean businesses could access the global talent pool, the ability to fit work around life (as opposed to the limitations of pre-pandemic 9am-6pm work blocks) were hugely appealing to colleagues.  In-office working had also undergone significant changes, with little value attached to heading into the office for video calls, but intentional office time used for team catch ups, brainstorms and coaching deemed valuable.

Experiments in hybrid work patterns have exploded and levels of flexibility explored, but two factors have remained clear:

85% of employees currently working from home want a ‘hybrid’ approach of both home and office working in future


85% of leaders say that the “shift to hybrid work has made it challenging

Microsoft 2022

Whilst many colleagues feel determined to maintain some (or most) of the flexibility offered by remote work, with a stagnant economy and rising costs, the debate around colleague productivity has started to shift and new research is raising questions around how much remote working is beneficial to a business

Workers who were randomly selected to work from home full time were 18% less productive than in-house office employees, either taking longer to complete tasks or getting less done – National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2023

Meanwhile recent McKinsey research provides a strong argument for balanced remote/in-office time. Their research which analysed a raft of data—including anonymous surveys and behavioural data of 4,000 of their teams working worldwide, claims to have identified the sweet spot for in-office working of 50%.

McKinsey found that hybrid work—defined as spending roughly 50% of working in-person at a client site or an office–works better than all-or-nothing approaches, as it strikes the right balance for apprenticeship, workforce sustainability, and client impact.

Katy George, McKinsey’s chief people officer and a senior partner

Top tips to bring colleagues with you to avoid backlash

There are many benefits to time spent in-person with team mates, specifically the mentorship available from team members which is far less accessible in a remote setting. But more important and impactful to productivity is colleague trust. Most people desire autonomy and obligatory mandates will likely damage this. 

To avoid mistakes made by the likes of Apple and Amazon when mandating workers back to office, we advocate a 3-step approach:

  1. Consult, don’t tell: team consultation into how and why office time is valuable and what that looks like at team level is a great way for colleagues to feel involved, listened to and valued.
  1. Re-think your space: if your office space hasn’t changed since the pandemic, it’s likely it isn’t fit for the collaborative and creative needs of 2023 office use. Book a Kerr office space audit today
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate: it’s really important to remind your colleagues about the benefits of in-office working. But your comms shouldn’t just be one-way. Make sure you have channels for colleagues to share ideas, concerns and reflections so that you can continually improve their experience.

Here at Kerr, we help businesses create workspaces where colleagues can connect, create and collaborate. 

Get in touch today, for a free workspace audit.

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