When the pandemic hit and the world went into ‘lockdown’, most companies moved into remote working, using technology to support employees working from home. There were all sorts of claims that productivity improved as a result. I’m afraid that I was churlish enough to cast doubt on these claims (in this blog) suggesting that the improved productivity was either a temporary phenomenon, imperfect measurement or wishful thinking.
Later evidence appears to suggest I was right. If there was any improved productivity, it’s did not last. Many companies are eagerly looking forward to having employees back in the office where they can mingle, interact and feed off one another.
So, lets be generous and say that those companies that reported an initial improvement in productivity on lockdown were right.
What caused it?
Well, there are a numbers of possibilities. One is that it was simply something like a ‘sugar rush’ – the taste of freedom and flexibility excited workers who responded with hard work, longer hours and strong focus. This initial sugar rush wore off (as one does) and productivity dropped – but managers found it difficult to report, so didn’t.
Another possibility is that it was a ‘Hawthorne effect’ – employees knew someone was taking an interest in their work and their performance and they responded accordingly. As the perceived interest from managers waned, so did the performance.
None of this means that productivity of remote work cannot be high – only that it doesn’t happen by accident; it isn’t a ‘given’; it has to be planned and managed.