WFH Impact on Productivity: An August 2022 Survey from New York

Much ink has been spilled about the benefits and drawbacks of remote work in the last two years. Following many of these discussions, I believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach. 

For example, it was just announced that Apple is restricting the WFH policy, and is expecting all employees to return to the office three days a week by September 5th. Other companies, such as Trip.com, after extensive research, are expanding their remote work policy even more after seeing the benefits to employee satisfaction and productivity.

These are two different companies, and both of them made a decision that fits better to the philosophy of their leaders, the nature of their business, and employee job function and satisfaction. Most likely, these companies will adjust their WFH dial as more data and experience is gained around the new work reality.

Results from an August 2022 survey released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York point exactly to that conclusion. The survey included 150 businesses from the New York tristate area, and included both manufacturing and service businesses. The results are mixed based on the type of industry, but overall in favor of remote work on average.

Remote Work Shift

On average, service companies reported that currently around 30% of their workforce is remote, and they expect this to be around 25% in a year from now. The same figures for manufacturing businesses were both 9.4% respectively. Obviously, manufacturing has fewer job functions that can be done remotely. In both industries though, the current percentage of remote workforce is around three times higher compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The employees that work from home spend around 3 days a week at home and the other days in the office. That figure is not expected to change substantially in a year from now. Monday and Friday are the most common days employees tend to work from home for obvious reasons (facilitates long weekend travel plans and long weekend holidays).

Productivity

From the businesses in the service sector that expanded remote work relative to before the pandemic, around 20% reported increased productivity, 50% no change in productivity, and around 30% drop in productivity. The same figures from the manufacturing sector are 12%, 60%, and 28%. The 30% and 28% of companies that reported lower productivity is substantial. However, it’s on each company’s leadership to decide whether remote work is a fit for them or not. The correct approach is to measure these metrics and make decisions based on data. 

The survey doesn’t touch upon employee satisfaction, attrition, and other factors that play into remote work, and these are metrics that leadership should also take into account when making decisions that affect the daily routines of their employees.  

It’s notable that a total of 70% and 72% of businesses in the service and manufacturing sectors respectively reported about the same or better productivity. That reveals that for the vast majority of companies, remote work doesn’t harm productivity, and at the same time comes with many other benefits: flexibility for employees, potential to reduce real estate footprint, and ability to approach a wider geographical area for recruiting.

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