It’s common knowledge that working from home is more efficient than working from the office, right?
When you work remotely all the time, are you really more productive than working from an office?
It depends. What do you mean by being more productive?*
Is it getting more done per hour? Or getting more done overall? Do short-term productivity gains translate over the long haul? Is it different working for yourself vs working for an “employer”?
Say you usually work in an office. If you occasionally work one day from home, it can be amazing how much you get done and in how little time.
If we’re being honest, when I used to take an occasional work-from-home day, I would actually do all my work in 2 hours (ok, ok, more like 90 minutes) and spend the rest of the day watching TV and just checking my email so it would look like I was working.
Because there were less distractions at home, I got as much or more done than I would in an average day at the office, but in less hours. This is what I hear from most of my friends- when they work from home occasionally they are super productive and get everything done in less time.
Does this mean you can work 12 hours and get 4 days’ worth of work done in one day?
Maybe you’re superhuman and you can do this, but I can’t (or won’t). Maybe I could do it one day if I pushed for an important project, but for me, it isn’t sustainable.
The hours I actually work are super-productive, but it’s harder to clock as many hours.
It turns out, home also has distractions, just different ones.
Distractions at the office: Coworkers, coffee breaks, meetings, in-person requests (ie, interruptions), the internet.
Distractions at home: Family, pets, TV, wine, food, naps, chores, the internet.
Overall, for me, I think it means I maintain the same productivity as I would at the office, just in less time.
The difference is that my “distracted” hours are spent watching Netflix in my PJs, not in a 2-hour meeting.
So you have more choice about where and when to be distracted, and the distractions are more pleasant (unless you’re stuck watching What Happens in Vegas with your SO, in which case… I might have preferred the meeting!)
What about coworking spaces?
Yes, coworking spaces can be awesome for productivity. They’re like offices (other people working, desks, fewer fun distractions than home), without some of the distractions of offices (meetings, in-person requests).
They do have downsides though: you still need to commute there (that’s supposed to be one of the big advantages of working from home, right? No commute) and you still need to get your butt of your couch, lug your laptop there, find a seat, bring a lunch (sometimes) and stay off Reddit to get your work done.
In my experience, I log way less hours at the coworking space that I would at an office but more than I would at home. (Lots of bankers’ hours, 10am-4pm!) I do get more done overall.
So for me, coworking spaces are great but I wouldn’t want to go every single day.
What about cafes?
I HATE working in cafes.
Too often, we spend loads of time getting there, can’t find a plug, the wifi sucks, they don’t have proper tables… and then you end up spending more money on coffee and snacks that you would have spent for a coworking space. And then you only stay 2 hours.
Coworking space all the way! I’ve been converted.
The exception is if you are familiar with a cafe with good facilities and only need to work a couple of hours, then it’s doable.
Is there a difference in productivity between employees working remotely and self-employed working remotely?
I think so. I would argue: when you’re working for someone else, it’s easy to be productive in your off-site hours because you know which direction to take. When you’re working for yourself, if you’re not clear on which direction to take, it can be difficult to choose.
One thing that I think is often overlooked about being self-employed is this:
Being an employee is comfortable because you have someone else to make certain choices for you: which project to work on, goals, deadlines, etc. Even if you don’t always like what is chosen for you, it’s incredibly liberating to not be responsible for every decision.
In contrast, when you’re self-employed, you need to decide everything. Once you have a project going, especially if it demands a lot of your time/effort, then it’s not so hard. But when you have excess capacity and are trying to decide where to direct it, the choices can be overwhelming.
If you have trouble choosing a direction and committing to it, you can feel less productive being self-employed than you would as an employee.
So, is it really more productive to work remotely than in an office?
Like so many other things, it depends: mainly on you, where you choose to work and what you’re working on.
I would say that in general, with the right tools, you get about the same amount of work done as you would in an office but with more freedom.
Whether you enjoy the freedom or whether it stresses you out is a toss up! I think we need to acknowledge that we don’t always want too much freedom and that’s ok.
Sometimes we just want the comfort of a regular schedule (and regular salary!) and someone telling us what to do, and that’s ok.
There is a lot of talk now about “digital nomads” and how wonderful it is to work from a beach cafe in Bali…. it can be wonderful, but it’s not for everyone.
It comes with a lot of tradeoffs, and it takes a particular type of person, at a particular time in their lives, willing to sacrifice some certainty and comfort (and take on certain responsibilities) in exchange for certain types of freedom.
Really often, when I hear people say “I wish I could work remotely!” I think… “Do you really though?”
Honestly, some days it’s a toss-up for me. And maybe when they really think about it it’s not for them, and that’s ok.
*We could debate the meaning of productivity vs efficiency, but to keep things brief here, let’s use the terms interchangeably. In this post, productivity = efficiency = getting shit done. We won’t debate the importance of which shit.