Work ethic or work mode? Here’s what a new poll reveals about remote employment productivity
Utahns self-report that they’re killing it when it comes to working from home, but aren’t so sure about their co-workers
When it comes to working from home, Utahns are mostly giving themselves high marks for maintaining productivity versus how much they accomplish when toiling in an office setting. But, they’re less charitable about their co-workers’ at-home work ethics and new academic research suggests no one is getting nearly as much done as they think they are.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found 50% of respondents who are currently working said they were somewhat or much more productive during time spent working from home than at their respective offices. In the minority were 18% of workers who said they were somewhat less productive while working at their abodes and 11% copped to being much less productive when working from home.
But while half of poll participants ranked themselves above the line on labor output in their shoes-optional work settings, they cast a more cynical eye on how their co-workers are using their at-home work time, with only 33% guessing that their colleagues were somewhat more or much more productive from home. And 34% of respondents believe their co-workers are somewhat less or much less productive when they skip the commute.
The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey was conducted Sept. 24-29 of 802 registered voters across the state. The polling data comes with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.23%.
Poll participant and Midvale resident Jennifer Estes has worked both sides of the work venue divide and while she previously spent 21⁄2 years in a remote work setting, she currently is required, thanks to job duties, to report for work in person on a full-time basis.
Estes said that she enjoyed her stint as a remote employee, and especially the flexibility to work from wherever she wanted to, but also likes the connection she has with fellow employees as an in-person worker.
But, when it comes to productivity, she believes making the best use of time on the clock is more about the individual than the workplace setting.
“My productivity was good when I worked from home, but I think it’s just as good working in person,” Estes said. “I’m good at self-managing and I really don’t feel like there is a difference in remote versus in person. People who aren’t productive in the workforce aren’t going to be productive in either setting.
“It’s a matter of work ethic.”
Research by Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research is uncovering new insight on the changing landscape of the workplace and notes that the number of remote workers rose by some 500% from 2019 to 2023.
According to a working paper published in July, a team of researchers found that 60% of current U.S. workers are fully on site while 30% have a hybrid work schedule that includes at least some time working remotely and 10% of employees are fully remote.
But when assessing worker productivity rates in remote settings versus in person, the Stanford findings reflect the relevant factors appear to be more about the balance between at-home and in-office time.
“The productivity of working from home depends critically on the specific mode: fully remote or hybrid work,” researchers wrote. “Fully remote work is associated with about 10% to 20% lower productivity than fully in-person work.”
Researchers noted that challenges with communicating remotely, barriers to mentoring and on-the-job learning, and issues with self-motivation all contributed negatively to remote workers’ productivity rates.
But those who are spending at least a portion of their work weeks by reporting in person are getting more done, in spite of having to strike a balance between staying home and spending some longer days that require commuting.
“Hybrid working, whereby employees have a mix of time at home and in the office each week, appears to be associated with flat or positive average impacts on productivity,” researchers wrote.
The “Evolution of Working from Home” paper also predicted that remote work, which was boosted by pandemic conditions, will continue to expand its footprint as a percentage of where the overall workforce spends its time.
“In the longer run we predict the amount of working from home will continue to grow, primarily due to technological improvements and changing norms,” researchers wrote. “The pandemic led to an additional one-off five-fold jump, but also jump-started a surge in research and development into new hardware and software products to support working from home.
“Thus, we expect the rate of technological change in remote work friendly innovations to fuel a new phase of work from home adoption in the coming decades.”
Mark Morris has been paying close attention to the evolution of remote work since he and a couple of friends opened WorkHive more than a decade ago, Salt Lake City’s first co-working space.
While the idea started out as a way for landscape architect Morris and his partners to utilize unused square footage in a shared workspace back in 2012, it’s grown into two locations in Salt Lake that, combined, offer some 15,000 square feet of flexible work and meeting areas.
Morris said interest in shared workspace was already trending up before the COVID-19 outbreak and then, amid restrictions that kept many workers at home, demand rose sharply as isolated employees were looking for alternatives to working from home every day.
Post-COVID, Morris notes that even though many remote workers have dialed in their home offices, co-working spaces like WorkHive offer opportunities to change up their work atmosphere and make new connections.
“A lot of people who have established nice remote work spaces and like working from home are still looking for the option of leaving the house, putting on work clothes … and just being able to have a separate space to get work done,” Morris said. “It’s a chance to make friends and build your network. It’s also great for those who may be new to Utah and are interested in getting connected to the community.”
Morris said he also believes working in a shared space can be a productivity boost.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people who use our spaces who’ve said that they feel a lot more productive at WorkHive than they do at home,” Morris said. “I think the environment helps with that ... people are here just working away and getting things done.”