Survey research suggests that managers and employees view remote work very differently. Managers are more likely to say it hurts productivity, while employees are more likely to say it helps. The difference may be commuting: Employees consider hours not spent commuting in their productivity calculations, while managers do not. The answer is clearer communication and policies, and for many companies the best policy is managed hybrid with two to three mandatory office days.
Remote work is one of the biggest changes to working since World War II, but it has been held back by a major disconnect between managers and employees. Case in point is Elon Musk. she ordered in November that employees should enter the office, just to go back after it threatened to accelerate the pace of resignations. This is Musk’s “hardcore” mistake, but a less dramatic version of the same story is playing out across the economy.
Managers and employees disagree about key aspects of work-from-home, according to surveys we conducted. For example, managers believe that working from home reduces productivity while employees think it significantly increases it.
Part of the disagreement seems to depend on what people think is considered productive. Employees tend to include commuting time in their mental calculation, and so they think that not having to commute when they work from home is considered an increase in productivity. Managers tend to ignore commute time when they think about productivity: They only care about how much work gets done each day.
In theory, both sides could be right, as illustrated by a simple hypothetical example. Consider a worker making $1,000 a day before the pandemic (a measure of output) and working nine hours and commuting an hour. They make $100 per hour they spend working or commuting. Now imagine they work from home: The commute time is zero and they still work nine hours. If they pay $950 a day, that’s an increase in productivity from their perspective: Now they’re making $106 for every hour they put in at work.
But from the manager’s point of view, it looks different. Because they didn’t count the time spent commuting, before the pandemic they assumed the worker was making $111 per hour ($1000/9 hours). Today, with work-from-home, worker productivity drops to $106 per hour. If the employee’s salary stays the same, the company gets less output for their money.
These calculations are made, and most workers’ output cannot be calculated this way – even if people think so. And, as mentioned above, in many cases productivity per hour actually increases when working from home. But it illustrates how important the commuting disconnect can be in explaining different perceptions of productivity. The answer depends in part on what counts.
Productivity is not the only area where managers and employees disagree. They also have different ideas about the disciplinary consequences of not coming to the office. We asked managers and employees what happens to workers who stay home on “workdays.” Employees are more likely than managers to answer “no,” while managers are more likely to say the worker is at risk of termination.
These differences of opinion show the need for clearer policies on working from home. The best available approach for most companies is the organized hybrid. Employers should choose two or three “anchor” days a week when all employees come into the office – usually between Tuesday and Thursday because Monday and Friday are the most popular days of the week. work-from-home. These office days should include mostly meetings, team activities, training, and lunches so that employees see the value of getting together. And attendance must be enforced in the same way as before the pandemic: Absence from work on anchor days is not acceptable, except in the case of emergencies, such as a sick child or an outbreak of water pipe. Finally, managers should actively encourage working from home on non-anchor days, so that employees can enjoy the benefits without fear that they are missing something in the office.
It is natural that a big shock to working conditions such as working from home can cause disagreements between employees and managers, but we have more than two years to navigate this change. or and the designs of the new era begin to take shape. The best evidence we have suggests that hybrid organization increases employee and firm productivity. Managers and employees need to get on the same page.