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Is It Hard to Stay Productive When You Work from Home?

Woman's hand holding her phone over a laptop, and a cat lying on the desk pawing her other hand.
Creative Lab/Shutterstock

The opportunity to work from home seems like a dream gig. But is it difficult to stay focused when you’re surrounded by the comforts (and distractions) of home? Actually, it’s easier than you might think.

Today, more than five percent of the U.S. workforce works from home. Even those who don’t have full-time remote jobs may work from home one or two days a week. Many also work on freelance projects at home after their regular workday ends.

However, no matter when or how they work, these remote workers almost always face one question: is it hard to stay productive? If you’re interested in working from home, you might wonder the same thing.

With your fridge, pets, bed, Netflix account, and other distractions at your fingertips, it can sound impossible to get anything done. But the research might surprise you: working from home actually makes people more productive.

That’s good news, but it raises other questions. Why does working from home make people more productive? Does it boost productivity in everyone equally? If you’re thinking of making the switch to working remotely, here’s what you should know.

Productivity and Remote Work: What the Research Shows

Many employers balk at the idea of letting their employees work from home. It’s not hard to see why.

When most people envision working from home, they see a constant invitation to slack off. Workers could ignore assignments in favor of television and snacks, or errands and cleaning. Without the accountability of nearby bosses and coworkers, can people really stick to a task?

As work-from-home jobs became more common, researchers applied themselves to answering this question. In one notable study, a Stanford professor followed 16,000 employees for two years. A control group stayed in the office, while the study subjects worked from home.

In terms of productivity, the remote workers blew the in-office workers out of the water. Not only did they get more done on an average workday, but they also took less time off, had shorter breaks, and were less likely to quit. The company also saved thousands of dollars on office space rentals.

This study is the largest, most comprehensive look at work-from-home productivity so far. However, many smaller studies and reports echo the same findings.

For example, as early as 2006, Best Buy saw worker productivity rise by 35 percent when they offered a “flex” schedule that permitted some work-from-home time. And a 2018 study of over 1,000 workers found that remote workers were more invested in their jobs than their peers in the office were.

Why Does Productivity Increase at Home?

Woman sitting at a picnic table on a patio using her laptop and tablet.
BonnieBC/Shutterstock

Other studies have let workers self-report how working from home affects them. These findings give an inside look at how this work arrangement helps people get more done.

Why does working from home boost productivity? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Reduced distractions and interruptions: Even though your home offers its own distractions, they’re easier to avoid than workplace interruptions, like midday meetings or chatty coworkers.
  • No office drama: When you have issues with a boss or coworker, it’s far more distracting than the average disruption. With no drama or office politics to navigate, remote workers can stay more focused on work.
  • Less stress: The commute to and from work can be immensely stressful. When you don’t have to deal with traffic or unpredictable public transit, you have a lot more energy for actual work.
  • No leaving early or coming in late: When you work from home, there’s less incentive to cut your workday short. Employees often can’t wait to leave a stressful, bland office. But at home, people are happy to work a bit longer. Plus, when you work from home, it often means you can work at any time—not just office hours.

While working from home offers many other benefits, these are the main factors that affect productivity. When you consider these, it’s clear why remote workers get so much more done.

Can Everyone Be Productive at Home?

You might be thinking, “Okay, but what about me?”

It’s one thing to read exciting research about employees at other companies. But will you be as productive as them if you work from home? The truth is, even though the research is promising, there are no guarantees. Some people thrive as remote workers, while others need the structure of the office.

You never know for sure until you try. If the following factors all apply to you, you’ll probably do well as a remote worker:

  • You find the office stressful: Do workplace politics or being surrounded by people stress you out? Workers who feel more relaxed and focused when they’re alone often do best when they work from home.
  • You’re comfortable with technology: Remote workers use apps and software to communicate with their coworkers. If you’re comfortable learning and using new tools, you’ll fit right in.
  • Your commute is difficult: A long, expensive, stressful commute eats up a lot of your time and energy. You get it all back if you work remotely.
  • You like your job: If you love the basic nature of what you do, it probably won’t be hard for you to focus on it at home. However, if you find your daily requirements tedious or boring, it might be more difficult for you to resist distractions.
  • Your home is work-friendly: If you can find quiet hours at home to focus on work, you can set yourself up for success. But if working from home means you’re also responsible for children, pets, or chores, you might struggle to get anything done.

Your success as a remote worker also depends on your employer. For example, if your boss gives you true freedom to focus, you might thrive. But if she expects twice-daily check-in calls, the interruptions might make remote work feel almost as hard as office work.

Is Remote Work Right for You?

As the research shows, it’s not hard for many people to work productively at home. However, it all comes down to what kind of worker you are.

Some people are better suited to working from home than others. Your motivation, self-discipline, home environment, and other factors play an important role.

If you think working remotely sounds right for you, don’t let the productivity myth hold you back. Research shows it’s possible—and easier than you might think—to do your job even better from home.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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