A recent study from Cardiff University suggests that employees who work from home are more likely than their peers who work in the office to work extra hours and put extra effort into doing their jobs. The study, published in the journal New Technology, Work and Employment and covered by the Daily Mail, examined survey responses from 15,000 UK employees in 2001, 2006 and 2012, and found that 39 percent of at-home remote workers said they “often have to work extra time, over and above the formal hours of my job, to get through the work or to help out,” compared to just 24 percent of in-office workers. Also, 73 percent of those who work from home said they put more effort than required into their job, compared to 68.5 percent of those who work from the office.
Professor Alan Felstead, the study’s lead author, offered the Daily Mail a theory as to what was causing this discrepancy:
Professor Felstead said: ‘The evidence suggests that remote workers are over-compensating to prove to their colleagues they are not in their pyjamas at home and prove to their employers they are a safe pair of hands willing to go the extra mile in return for the discretion an employer gives them to work at home or in a remote location.’
Noting that the percentage of the UK workforce doing their jobs in a traditional workplace had fallen from 74.8 per cent in 2001 to 66.4 per cent in 2012, the study also pointed out that there were downsides to remote work in terms of employee wellbeing: Nearly 44 percent of remote workers reported that they had difficulty unwinding after a day at work, while only 38.1 percent of fixed-location staff said so. This, Felstead said, reflects the challenge for remote workers of setting clear boundaries between their professional and personal lives.
Another factor that might help explain why remote workers may be overcompensating is that they feel disconnected from their colleagues, Marianne Calnan adds at People Management:
Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist at the CIPD, added that remote workers might be more inclined to slog away for longer hours because they “feel out of touch with the rest of the organisation, and feel they could be overlooked for promotion opportunities”.
Brinkley urged employers to make sure remote workers “feel part of the loop” by keeping them updated with goings on in the company, using mechanisms such as ‘keeping in touch’ days. “That will help ease the concerns of the worker and organisation and create trust between the two – which these arrangements depend on hugely,” he said.
The prevalence of remote work is growing rapidly in the US as well as the UK and around the world, so the effects of this shift are being studied more and more. The findings of the Cardiff University study jibe with other recent research to paint a mixed picture of the benefits and drawbacks of remote work: For example, a study of call center employees in China last year found that at-home workers were more productive and less likely to quit, but also were less likely to get promoted, attributed to their lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues and managers.
To the extent that a consensus is emerging around the best way to manage a remote workforce, most experts focus on the need to maintain regular communication and keep remote employees integrated with the rest of the organization. A Gallup survey earlier this year concluded that the most engaged employees were those who worked part of their time from home and the rest from the office, allowing them to reap the work-life benefits of remote work without losing touch with their colleagues.