As companies went from having a small fraction of remote workers to having 90% of employees working remotely one would think that productivity would take a big hit, not just because of the technological challenges but also because the adage of “out of sight, out of mind” would provide less incentive for employees to give it their all.

Well, based on anecdotal research it appears that productivity has been little impacted. Companies appear to be functioning quite well. As Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays PLC said, “We have over 70,000 people working remotely and keeping a very complicated £1.4 trillion balance sheet bank functioning….from their kitchens.”

In addition in one study conducted in China in 2010 with 250 employees at a call center, researchers found a 13% increase in productivity with those who were home based compared to those who remained in the office. Admittedly there were some caveats. Home-based subjects had to live alone and have a separate room that they could work in. In addition this was not battlefield conditions I.e. they weren’t in a pandemic-driven lockdown environment.

To some extent any productivity spike you are seeing may be because employees have been asked to make herculean efforts to pivot to remote work, get comfortable with new technology, and at the same time protect themselves and their families from getting Covid. It’s rather like when a country is asked to respond to any calamity, natural disaster or war. Everyone steps up and puts in the extra effort needed with as cheerful an attitude as they can muster. The indomitable human spirit in action.

However when the at-home employees in the China study were measured for happiness, half of them wanted to go back to the office. Loneliness was the single biggest reason. In another informal study, 5,000 HR bosses were polled recently for the biggest reasons their teams had shared for wanting to go back to the office. Seventy per cent cited social and mental health issues, including feelings of loneliness. “I think young people in particular really need that connection,” was a comment made by the survey author.

Even though many companies report an uptick in productivity since say last year, experts are now saying productivity may not stay improved once employees get the freedom to socialize in person again away from the formal workplace. What will happen to productivity as we see the return of happy hour drinks and lunches with friends and work colleagues cutting down the hours spent on production?

Still, remote work is here to stay in some form or another. So what of the offices that we used to either happily or begrudgingly go to every day? Well bear in mind that office leases are difficult to tear up. Even Twitter, who declared that staff can work from home for good, has no plans to close or reduce its offices.

According to a survey by the global financial services company Jefferies, 61% of more than 1,500 UK respondents said they would return to work immediately if they could. Facebook says half of its employees will work from home by 2030, but Mark Zuckerberg said only one in five were enthusiastic about doing so. More than half “really want to get back to the office as soon as possible”, he told the Wall Street Journal.

Don’t count your familiar office or cubicle out yet, Steve Roth, the CEO of Vornado, a real estate investment trust which admittedly would have skin in the game, said “collaboration is the ‘winning ticket’ and people don’t want to spend their days working in their pajamas.”

My new set of pajamas will be arriving any day now.

Note from Deb: About time you got new pajamas