The battle over whether remote employees should be forced back into the office is based on a false belief: people working from home slack off more than in-office workers.
It’s simply not true.
Consider the latest viral TikTok trend: bragging about “time theft.” The notion was perhaps expressed best by TikTokker Daniel Ezra, who said: “The real work flex is not grinding for 80 hours a week. The real work flex is time theft.”
Hundreds of comments about the video piled on with tips on how they “steal” nearly the entire workday, which included coming into the office late, taking long breaks, pretending to work, and other tactics.
You’ll note that cheerleaders for total slacking are doing so in an office. The whole “time theft” idea is the more in-your-face version of “quiet quitting.” But it also demonstrates how trivial it is for unmotivated employees to slack off in an office environment.
Meanwhile, more data has emerged showing that people working from home produce more than office workers.
Why? Because they have more time.
Researchers working with Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom recently conducted a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research. They found the average office worker spends 72 minutes per day driving to work and home again in 27 countries and 55 minutes per day in the United States.
What did remote workers do with the extra time saved by not commuting? It turns out that some 40 per cent of the time was given to the job, 34 per cent went to leisure, and 11 per cent was used taking care of others (including children) in the home.
The most accurate reading of this is that remote workers both slacked off more and worked more, plus they devoted some time to improving their own work-life balance.
More to the point, it’s safe to assume that remote workers could work the exact same hours as office-working commuters but instead voluntarily give 40 per cent of their extra time to work.
While some office workers engage in “time theft,” the average remote worker does the opposite. They’re giving more time to their employers.
In fact, likely, many workers who prefer to work from home but are forced to work in an office are more likely to engage in “quiet quitting” and “time theft” type behaviour because they’re disgruntled.
A group of YouTube contractors in Texas is so unhappy with being forced into the office that they’re going on strike.
Employees who work for companies that use surveillance software to monitor remote workers tend to feel similarly disgruntled, as well as “overworked and burnt out,” according to a recent BBC report.
Yet another mistake employers make is demanding that work-from-home employees refrain from traveling. Unfortunately, such mandates lead to a new trend called a “hush trip,” where employees travel but lead their co-workers and bosses to believe they’re in their home offices.
While I encourage employees to be honest with their employers, I also encourage employers to refrain from telling remote workers that they can’t work from another location — or another country.
Because what’s really happening is that employees are managing their own burnout prevention. It’s time to shed the idea that people working from home slack off more than in-office workers.
And it’s time to embrace the idea that happy remote employees are more likely to be self-motivated to work harder and manage their own work-life balance and prevent burnout.
The policies designed to improve productivity — working in offices, surveilling remote workers and banning remote work travel — likely have the opposite impact: Causing workers to be disgruntled and passive-aggressively avoid productivity.
In fact, you’ve likely heard chatter about the four-day workweek to manage burnout. But with sufficient work time and place flexibility and maximising a culture of asynchronous communication, there’s no need to mandate any number of days per week.
Instead, apply solid performance metrics based on output and let employees figure out how much and when they work. Aim to motivate employees with trust, work flexibility, and a sense of purpose, and let them make their own decisions. That’s likely to have a far better outcome than edicts, surveillance, and control.