Teleworking Productivity: Perception vs. Reality

In last week’s blog, I discussed the potential solutions teleworking offers to address the work vs. home dilemma for both men and women. I also emphasized Princeton professor Ann-Marie Slaughter’s notion that our workplace environment needs a serious face-lift. In this post, we will delve (head-first) into this subject by examining the contentious topic of teleworking productivity. And we will encounter a recurring problem: productivity perception vs. reality.


Let’s start with perception and the negative aspects of teleworking that feed it.


OK, a 2011 article in Inc. Magazine posts a relevant question: “Does working from home mean ‘hardly working’?” The reporter then cites a study from that suggests one in five employees who telework only work for an hour tops. What are they doing for the other seven-or-so hours, you ask? Apparently, they are playing with their pets, tending to their children, doing laundry, watching TV, twiddling their thumbs, and who knows what else. This study likely endorses employers’ worst fears (that they are paying you to sit home in your pajamas and bunny slippers). But is this study a realistic representation? We’ll get to that later.


Employer telework productivity perception will keep businesses from deploying extensive teleworking policies (duh — per the Families and Work Institute, only 16 percent of employees are allowed to telework, even though 40 percent of U.S. employees have jobs that could be done at home), but this perception affects employees who currently telework as well. According to a study published by MIT’s Sloan Management Review, employers are more likely to reward employees who exhibit more “passive face time,” or, in short, employees who are simply seen more in the office.


“Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long,” report MIT’s Kimberly Eisbach and Daniel Cable. “Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently.”


A 2011 report from WorldatWork echoes a similar theme as it demonstrates that telecommuting has actually decreased since 2003. The report notes several factors, including high unemployment, higher anxiety surrounding job security, and a lack of awareness of telework options. Additionally, the Telework Research Network found that while 75 percent of managers say they trust their employees, at least a third would like to see them in the office (just in case).


So far, it seems as though employers are systemically suspicious of telework policies, and even if they do implement them, they (subconsciously perhaps) penalize their telecommuting employees.


Are these perceptions actually misconceptions? Let’s look at positive productivity aspects of teleworking.


As cited previously, the Telework Research Network, a consulting and research firm that specializes in workplace flexibility and (you guessed it!) teleworking, espouses a wealth of statistics involving remote workplace productivity. Here’s an impressive factoid that really stood out: Teleworking would increase national productivity by $334 billion to $467 billion per year (or between 15 and 55 percent).


The Atlanta-based Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit organization that endeavors to remedy traffic congestion and rampant air pollution, consistently champions teleworking. In keeping with their analysis, 74 percent of employees report an increase in productivity. And to offset the potential conflict of interest (employees generally want a more flexible work environment and, thus, may hyperbolize their productivity levels), 85 percent of managers found that productivity increases or remains constant. Only 2 percent of employers reported a decrease in productivity.


So how can we remedy the gap between the perception and reality of teleworking productivity? Employers. We need to train our workers to engage in efficient, yet flexible, work options to not only save the environment and peace of mind, but also…money.


How do we train employees, you might ask? Well here are some things to keep in mind:

-Company culture must first embrace teleworking.

-Though employees will (most likely) work from home, they need both structure and direction (and a defined office space).

-Managers and employees should stay in constant contact, whether via social networking, chat interfaces, email, or video conferencing.

-And finally, teleworking is not for everyone. It should be viewed as a reward, not a right.


Getting back to the report, which found that 17 percent of teleworkers work less than an hour. There was another interesting percentage within the same survey: Over a third of participants (5,300 participants to be exact) said they worked over eight hours a day. Interesting.


Do you think you would be more or less productive if you worked from home? Or do you think teleworking is a waste of time?


Let us know!