Mark Zuckerberg says ‘in-person work is better’: Are employees working from home less productive?
Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg is one of the latest CEOs to suggest that working in-person is more productive than working remotely. However, studies state otherwise; employees reveal they work better when at home
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, work from home became a reality for almost the entire world. Now as the pandemic has waned, many CEOs and workplaces are calling their employees back to work. On Tuesday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a thumbs-down to working from home and suggested that those who work in person are more productive.
But is the Meta CEO right in his assessment? Do employees function better at office or at home? We take a closer look.
What Zuckerberg said?
On Tuesday, the 38-year-old CEO shared a memo announcing plans to lay off an additional 10,000 workers and incur restructuring costs. These firings are in addition to the previous 11,000 employees laid off last year.
The memo also stated that an “early analysis of performance data” found that engineers with some in-person working time (even if they later transitioned to remote work) “performed better on average than people who joined remotely.” He further also suggested that new engineers worked better “on average” with three days of in-person work with colleagues each week.
“Our hypothesis is that it is still easier to build trust in person and those relationships help us work more effectively,” he wrote, adding that Meta remains committed to distributed work, but he encouraged employees to find more opportunities to work with one another in person.
Interestingly, Meta was one of the first companies to shift to remote working during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, Meta continues to have remote working roles, but it seems that as other tech giants like Amazon call their employees back to the office — at least thrice a week — Meta is also having a rethink on their policy.
The end of remote working?
Meta’s push for working in person is similar to the stance taken by other companies. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said that recently joined employees should spend some time in the office. “We know empirically that they do better if they’re in the office, meeting people, being onboarded, being trained,” Benioff said in an interview for the On With Kara Swisher podcast. Workers who stayed at home after starting at Salesforce were not as successful, he said.
Other companies such as Amazon, Apple, Citigroup, Disney, Goldman Sachs have also asked employees to return to work. At Apple, senior leaders had told workers to return to work at least three days a week in August. CEO Tim Cook had said that the decision was meant to restore “in-person collaboration”. However, employees at Apple fought back, saying they could do do “exceptional work” from home.
In February this year, Disney’s Bob Iger had said that employees will need to spend at least four days a week in the office. The employees fought back arguing that the policy would have “unintended consequences” that could harm the company, including “forced resignations among some of our most hard-to-replace talent and vulnerable communities,” which could lead to dramatically reduced “productivity, output, and efficiency.”
JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon has also pushed back on remote work, saying it didn’t work for an apprenticeship program or “spontaneous stuff.” In August last year, it also asked half of its employees to return to the office five days a week and another 40 per cent to go in a few days a week.
Also read: Will recession put an end to work from home in 2023?
In-person vs remote working — which is better?
While many CEOs state that in-person working is more productive, studies haven’t necessarily agreed with them. In October 2022, a Pulse survey from Slack’s think tank, Future Forum surveyed 10,000 global white-collar workers on the matter.
The survey revealed that workers are actually more productive when they can work from home. Those with full schedule flexibility showed 29 per cent higher productivity scores than employees with no flexibility at all, and remote and hybrid workers reported four per cent higher productivity than their fully in-office counterparts.
Another survey carried out by Ergotron agreed that productivity was higher in employees working from home.
Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom also did research on the matter and found that people who worked remotely at least some of the time reported being about nine percent more efficient working from home than they were working from the office. This was five per cent higher than in summer 2020.
Also read: Art of ‘living’ in the work from home era is a habit changed hard
A 2022 Owl Labs study also threw up some interesting numbers; 62 per cent of workers said they feel more productive when working remotely. Additionally, 37 per cent of them said their homes were more productive for innovating and brainstorming.
Working from home also promotes diversity in workplaces. Employees who are workplace minorities with respect to race, gender, age, religion or politics are keener to work from home a few days each week. So, firms that offer remote-work options will find it easier to recruit a diverse workforce.
However, this is not to say that there are no benefits to in-person work. Over a longer period of time, in-person work has key benefits — including learning and new friendships — that come from face-to-face contact. Working from office encourages innovation. It also helps in fostering better work culture.
However, managers don’t necessarily agree with work from home benefits, which has led to productivity paranoia — where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.
As most issues, both sides — in-person working and remote working — have benefits. However, it is left to be seen which side wins out.
Remote working seems too convenient to go away entirely. So, this means that the year 2023 may continue seeing flexible work schedules.
With inputs from agencies
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