Teleworking, once considered the exception, has become the norm for many companies around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this transition, forcing companies to rethink their traditional ways of operating. But what about productivity when employees work 100% remotely? Is this a blessing in disguise or a major challenge for businesses?
According to a Banque de France study, teleworking has grown considerably since the pandemic and is likely to remain common practice in the future. This transition could have a beneficial impact on business productivity, thanks in particular to the accelerated adoption of technologies. However, to get the most out of them, proper preparation is essential.
In spring 2020, in response to the health measures imposed to combat Covid-19, the use of teleworking increased significantly. In France, more than a quarter of workers were affected, compared with less than 3% working from home at least one day a week in 2017, according to the DARES. This rapid adoption has removed many obstacles, whether cultural, technical or regulatory.
But teleworking is not just about productivity. It also raises concerns about employee well-being, work-life balance and even the emergence of new inequalities. For example, not all jobs are suitable for teleworking, creating a disparity between workers.
Let’s take a look at the current state of teleworking in an attempt to answer the question of productivity when you work fully remotely.
The benefits of 100% teleworking for employees
100% teleworking offers a number of advantages for employees that go far beyond simply flexible working hours. Here are some of the most notable advantages:
Teleworking allows employees to better balance their professional and personal responsibilities. They can, for example, start their working day after dropping their children off at school and take a break to look after them when they return. It can also reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.
Employees can save money by avoiding the costs associated with daily travel, such as petrol, wear and tear on the car, public transport tickets and meals out. But they can also, and above all, make great savings on rent or credit, with properties located in much more affordable locations than where the company is based.
Numerous studies have shown that employees are often more productive when they work from home. This is due to a reduction in common office distractions, such as impromptu discussions or unplanned meetings. What’s more, the home working environment can be adapted to suit individual preferences, which can increase concentration.
Reduce journey times
One of the most obvious benefits of teleworking is the elimination of commuting time. This can represent several hours a week for some employees, giving them more free time to devote to other activities. This can also mean significant fuel savings if they drive to work.
Flexible working hours
Teleworking offers the opportunity to work flexible hours, which can be particularly beneficial for people with family responsibilities or other commitments outside work.
Health and well-being
Working from home can also have health benefits. Employees can take regular breaks to stretch their legs, prepare healthy meals and even exercise during their lunch break. They are also less likely to catch or pass on diseases from their colleagues.
The advantages of 100% teleworking for the employer
100% teleworking is not only good for employees. Employers can also reap many benefits from this new form of work. Here are some of the major benefits for employers, backed up by recent studies and research:
Companies can make significant savings by reducing the costs associated with premises, electricity, air conditioning or heating, and associated services. What’s more, reducing travel can also reduce transport allowances or travel expenses.
Attracting and retaining talent
In some business sectors, particularly technology and development, full remote working has almost become a requirement for recruiting the best talent. In any case, it’s an undeniable argument for attracting certain profiles. An employee’s quality of life may be enhanced if you are based in a major metropolis such as Paris. On a Parisian salary, a 100% teleworking employee who lives in the countryside where life is cheap will have little chance of looking elsewhere.
Teleworking enables companies to be more agile and flexible. In the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as a natural disaster or health crisis (as we all know, it happens…), businesses can continue to operate without major disruption. But it can also play a role during transport strikes, sporting events (like the Olympics…) or cultural events that block the roads, or during a period of building work that makes the workplace uncomfortable.
Diversity and inclusion
Teleworking gives companies access to a wider and more diverse talent pool, without being limited by geography. This can lead to more diverse and inclusive teams, which can stimulate creativity and innovation. You can recruit from all over the country, and even beyond.
Although this may vary from company to company and sector to sector, some studies have shown that teleworking can increase productivity. For example, a study of a Chinese call centre revealed a 20% increase in productivity among teleworkers. Source.
Reducing our carbon footprint
Less travel means fewer carbon emissions. This can help companies achieve their sustainability and social responsibility objectives.
Teleworking enables companies to maintain their operations in the event of unforeseen circumstances, ensuring business continuity and reducing disruption.
The disadvantages of 100% teleworking for employees
100% teleworking has its advantages, that’s a fact, but it also has its challenges and disadvantages for employees. Here are some of the major drawbacks, backed up by recent studies and research:
Additional professional costs
Although teleworking can reduce certain costs for employees, such as travel expenses, it can also lead to additional costs. For example, employees may need to invest in specific hardware or software to work efficiently from home, use more electricity or heat or cool their homes. In the end, it’s a shift in spending, but from collective to individual.
Teleworking can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, leading some employees to work beyond their normal hours without formal compensation source. They may be tempted to pick something up after dinner, to continue working on the sofa in the evening… Some people find it difficult to draw a clear line between work and free time, others need to learn to do so.
Working from home can isolate employees from their colleagues and their usual working environment. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation and increase the risk of burn-out. If the person lives in an isolated area or has little social network, the lack of direct contact with colleagues could gradually damage their morale.
Disruption to work-life balance
Although teleworking can offer greater flexibility, it can also upset the balance between work and personal life. Employees can find it hard to disconnect from work, especially if they don’t have a dedicated workspace at home.
Lack of social interaction
One of the major disadvantages of teleworking is the lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues. This can reduce the opportunities for collaboration, learning and professional development, and is also a new challenge for managers.
Employees may encounter technical problems when working from home, such as unstable Internet connections or problems with their equipment. This can hamper their ability to work effectively.
Working from home can pose data security risks, especially if employees use their own devices or connect via unsecured networks.
The disadvantages of 100% teleworking for the employer
While 100% teleworking has many advantages for employers, it also has its challenges and disadvantages. Here are some of the major drawbacks, backed up by recent studies and research:
Difficulty of supervision
Remote supervision can be more complex than face-to-face supervision. Employers can find it difficult to assess the performance and productivity of their employees, especially if they do not have the appropriate tools and processes in place.
Data security risks
Working remotely can increase data security risks. Employees using their own devices or connecting via unsecured networks can expose the company to external threats.
Reduced team cohesion
The lack of face-to-face interaction can reduce team cohesion and dynamics. This can affect collaboration, communication and innovation within the source company;
To support teleworking, companies may need to invest in specific technologies and tools, such as videoconferencing software, collaboration platforms or security solutions, or even reinvest in new laptops for their teams.
Difficulties in training and integration
Intégrer et former de nouveaux employés peut être plus complexe à distance. New employees can struggle to adapt to the company culture and build relationships with colleagues source.
Legal and regulatory risks
Employers should be aware of the different regulations relating to teleworking, which can vary from country to country and region to region. This may include issues relating to working hours, health and safety or compensation.
Remote communication can lead to misunderstandings or delays in the transmission of information. Employers need to ensure that communication channels are clear and effective to avoid problems.
Example where 100% teleworking has increased productivity
Here are some sectors where productivity has been positively influenced by the move to full teleworking, based on recent studies:
Information and communication technology sector: Jobs in this sector, such as software developers and publishers, are particularly well suited to teleworking. A longitudinal study conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic showed that many knowledge workers, including in this sector, experienced an increase in their well-being and productivity when working remotely. Source.
Financial sector: A study conducted in Saudi Arabia has revealed that teleworking has a positive effect on worker productivity in the financial sector. However, this requires effective management of remote working. Source.
Various sectors in Central Europe : A study conducted in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic found that factors such as high stress, low employee control and limited communication with managers can minimise productivity growth from remote working. However, work organisation features such as an appropriate working environment, savings on travel costs, access to technical assistance and a fast Internet connection remain positively linked to remote working productivity. Source.
Cybersecurity sector: Although not directly related to productivity, it is important to note that the move to teleworking has increased the risk of cyber threats, requiring greater attention to cyber security, particularly in sectors that rely heavily on information technology. Source.
Example where 100% teleworking has reduced productivity
Here are some sectors where productivity has been negatively affected by the move to full teleworking, based on recent studies:
Agile software development: A study has examined how a 4-day working week and remote working affect Agile software development teams. Although team productivity has not decreased, team members’ stress levels have increased as a result of the 4-day working week. However, individual team members’ job satisfaction was positively affected. Source.
Remote workers during COVID-19 containment: A study examined the impact of COVID-19 containment on the physical and psychosocial well-being and work productivity of remote workers. The results showed associations between sedentary behaviour and poorer mental health, and between poorer mental health and lower productivity at work. In addition, 70% of respondents reported more sedentary behaviour. Source.
Corporate communication: A study has analysed the influence of teleworking on knowledge sharing and the motivations for hiding knowledge from the point of view of corporate communication managers. Most respondents believe that knowledge concealment has increased as a result of the widespread adoption of teleworking by companies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons for this concealment of knowledge are linked to the lack of a culture of sharing, insecurity, digital exhaustion and mistrust. Source.
So, does teleworking have a negative impact on employee productivity?
100% teleworking is a complex subject with both advantages and disadvantages for employees and employers. When it comes to employee productivity, studies and feedback show varying results. On the one hand, some employees have reported an increase in productivity due to the reduction in office distractions, flexible working hours and the adaptation of their working environment to their preferences. On the other hand, certain challenges, such as isolation, communication difficulties or technical problems, can hamper productivity.
It is therefore difficult to give a definitive answer to the question of whether 100% teleworking is significantly detrimental to productivity. It all depends on how it is implemented, the tools and policies in place, and the individual characteristics of each employee. What is certain is that teleworking requires a tailored approach, with appropriate support from employers, to maximise its benefits while minimising its drawbacks.