Time spent working remotely: positive outweighs negative, FIU Business research finds.

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Amidst the debate over keeping employees remote or getting them back to the office, new research from FIU Business found that the amount of time spent working remotely delivers no real downside for employees or employers.

Higher levels of remote work were found to be associated with several upsides for employees except for perceived isolation. Also, the study suggests that remote workers did not have worse outcomes compared to office-based workers.

Forthcoming in Personnel Psychology, the research was conducted against a backdrop of increasing resistance to remote work. Executives including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon insist it’s time to be done with remote work.

“It was important to understand ‘so what’ – is it good, bad, what does it mean?” said Ravi Gajendran, professor of global leadership and management at FIU Business and one of the researchers. “Whether more time spent working remotely is helpful or harmful for employees and organizations. As employees spend more time away does it make them better or less performers?”

These results contradict prevailing theories that favor a return to office as a means to enhance employee morale and productivity. The researchers found that remote working is generally a good thing with modest upsides and with limited downsides.

“Overall, the more time an employee spends working remotely has small but positive effects of interest to the organization,” Gajendran said.

The researchers conducted an analysis of 162 published studies on remote work intensity going back 30 years. They focused on overall small but beneficial effects on multiple consequential employee outcomes including job satisfaction, organizational commitment, perceived organizational support, supervisor-rated performance and turnover intentions.

“We looked at the evidence about the effects,” Gajendran added. The research included studies of remote work conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote work was widespread and often mandatory due to safety concerns.

The results indicate that executives and managers can simultaneously maximize the benefits and minimize the downsides of remote work by enhancing remote workers’ autonomy and connection with other employees. Options to reduce the feeling of isolation are regular check-ins, but not micromanagement, and having everyone in the office on certain days.

“They should make adjustments depending on what the work requires, not on the whims of the CEO,” Gajendran said. “The team needs to decide what the team needs. Sometimes that requires intensive coordination and adjustment, not others.”

In the U.S., an estimated 70 million employees work in jobs that can be performed remotely. The percentage of employees in remote-capable jobs who worked remotely almost doubled after the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 40% in 2019 to 78% in 2022.

Based on insights from the research, Gajendran noted that company leaders must fine-tune the level of work and job type performed when they call employees back to the office. “There has to be a purpose of coming to the office,” he added. “It should be someone who’s going to make a difference.”

Gajendran conducted the research with Ajay Ponnapalli of Wayne State University, Chen Wang of Western Michigan University, and Anoop Javalagi of Northwestern University.

Reference: Ravi S. Gajendran, Ajay R. Ponnapalli, Chen Wang and Anoop A. Javalagi. “A dual pathway model of remote work intensity: A meta-analysis of its simultaneous positive and negative effects.” 2024. Personnel Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12641