Why some people are less productive at home than others

Has working at home during lockdown made people more productive or not? This has been the subject of some lively debate recently.

Many companies do not routinely measure productivity. A large number will have traditionally assumed that they get the highest output when staff work longer hours or under close supervision, but remote working is clearly causing some to re-evaluate this. Major firms, for instance professional services group PwC, have been sufficiently impressed to make remote working a permanent option for their staff.

On the other hand, some business leaders insist that remote working is compromising productivity and is therefore not workable in the long term. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, for example, has dismissed it as an “aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”. So who is right?

Surveys tend not to be good at measuring productivity objectively. The research partnership Work After Lockdown, on which I’m a co-investigator, has been trying to improve on this. We have just published the results of an ESRC-funded survey in which we asked 1,085 respondents working from home in the UK about their productivity.