As the pandemic eases, some of America’s largest companies have decided to forego the opportunity I work from home.
Major technology companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft announced that they want their employees to be in the office at least three days a week in a hybrid model by summer. However, financial companies such as Goldman Sachsorder employees to show up for the traditional five days a week.
But is it really better for a business to have employees in the office than to work remotely? The study is mixed.
Study of published in 2015 The Quarterly Journal of Economics found that employees who work from home are 13% more productive than those who work in the office. The findings were based on an experiment conducted at Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency with 16,000 employees. Call center employees who volunteered to take part in the study were randomly assigned to either work in an office for nine months or work from home.
However, this increase in productivity may come with a loss of collaboration and creativity.
BUT a study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior in January this year found that when employees work from home, they are less likely to communicate with each other. This can lead to a loss of creativity, said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who was not involved in the Nature study.
“In terms of productivity, remote work is very good,” Galinsky said. “We have known this for many years. People working remotely are not distracted by other people. They don’t get tired of commuting. Easy life.”
But, according to Galinsky, “We also know from research that socialization and identification with a company is directly related to costs. From the company’s point of view, employees may be more productive, but they don’t share experiences with their peers and develop better organizational identification and affection.”
Employees with a deep attachment to their employer mean they are more willing to sacrifice for the company and less likely to take on other jobs.
What’s more, when it comes to creativity, “collaboration is beneficial,” Galinsky said. “In the office, employees can go into other people’s offices and share ideas and develop them.”
Informal interactions, such as casual meetings in water cooler can spark new ideas, says Nellie Brown, director of occupational health and safety programs at the School of Industrial Relations at Cornell University. “There’s also a big difference when you’re only communicating via email and not casually, face-to-face,” she added.
While it makes sense for tech companies that want to spur innovation to have employees in the office, it doesn’t make sense for financial companies, Galinsky said. “It’s funny that financial companies are most opposed to remote work, when their work is easiest to do remotely,” he said.
Galinsky doesn’t think it’s best for everyone to be in the office five days a week. “When you look at the literature on innovation, it becomes clear that the best sequence begins with a period when people themselves come up with new ideas. They then brainstorm with others, without criticism. Later, colleagues can begin to critically evaluate ideas.”
While senior employees may come two to three days a week, younger employees are better off four days a week, Galinsky said. He added that in this way they can be instructed and socialized. “There should also be one day a week when everyone is in the office,” Galinsky said. “With this structure, the company can benefit from both remote work and innovation.”
Brown also worries about younger staff. Research has shown that working entirely online can be costly, she explained. University of California at Los Angeles, learning in adolescence found that their ability to read body language and emotions can be affected when communication is not in person.
Many employees hate Galinsky said that for the shift away from teleworking and the shortage of workers in the current market, they may have more leverage to negotiate with their employers. “Historically, remote workers were seen as more productive, but they had less status because they didn’t attend meetings before and after meetings,” he added. “But now remote work is seen more as a perk that can be negotiated.”