Remote workers ‘work harder and are more productive’

Around 70 per cent of British office workers who are able to work away from the office say they can get ‘more done’ working that way and 38 per cent say they can be more creative when they are able to work flexibly, according to a report commissioned by Microsoft for Anywhere Working Week.

However, the report suggests that flexible working is being held back by cultural barriers related to trust, with employees concerned about how colleagues perceive them when not working in the office, and a feeling that flexible working is only about ‘working from home’.

According to the findings of the study, nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of the UK office workforce did not believe there was complete trust when working outside the office. This was identified as the biggest barrier to anywhere working, with not having access to the right technology cited by just 24 per cent as an issue.

The study revealed that when working away from the office employees tend to overcompensate in order to quash colleagues’ negative perceptions. Nearly half (47 per cent) make a conscious attempt to be extra visible by sending more emails and making more phone calls. Almost one in three (30 per cent) feel guilty about not being in the office, with 39 per cent working longer hours to prove they are not ‘shirking from home’.

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More than 9 out of 10 office workers surveyed (92 per cent) did not see being less productive/more distractions as the biggest barrier to flexible working. A similar number (90 per cent) said they didn’t think they would find it harder to work with other people when working away from the office.

The main drivers and motivators for flexible working were focused around productivity and concentrating on getting work done, rather than reacting to travel issues, illness or company demands. Only 22 per cent cited childcare as a reason for working away from the office.

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, says: “People don’t need to be shackled to their desks to be productive or to collaborate with their colleagues. Work should be a thing you do not a place you go. Flexible working is more about choosing a location that best suits your requirements to get the job done. This can mean working from a variety of locations during the day, be that on the move, a shared knowledge hub, a coffee shop, a remote office or at home if need be.”

Philip Ross, founder and CEO of UnWork.com, says: “The research indicates that when people are away from the office, they may well be more productive but feel paranoid they are viewed as absent and so do their best to be as visible as possible. There is a risk that workers will prioritise presenteeism over effectiveness and this won’t be the right approach for them or the organisations that employ them. The conversation should be about the work we do and how and where we can be most productive. Arguing about which single location is best misses the point entirely.”

The study was carried out in March 2013 by Ipsos MORI of a representative GB sample of 1,000 office workers. It was commissioned by Microsoft on behalf of the Anywhere Working Consortium.

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