Over the past five quarters, employee productivity in the office has slowly declined in the US, according to a study by EY-Parthenon using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, flexible work-from-home hours continue to show the greatest productivity for employees and business owners. In fact, the evidence that a flexible work environment is more productive for everyone involved is staggering. Despite this evidence however, many CEO’s and executives are stubbornly requiring employees to return to strict office hours.
There seems to be a false belief among top executives that there is some magic or secret within the four walls of an office building. A false belief that somehow being in an office equates to their employees being more productive. What research has found however is that the opposite is true. While socializing, the water cooler, and vending machine gossip thrive at the office, concentrated and productive work decreases while within these walls. While the office does serve a purpose, productivity is not it, and the forced return to work is resulting in employees working longer hours with nothing more to show for it.
Studies have found a strong correlation between productivity and engagement; employees who have forced office hours are also disconnected and not engaging with the companies they work for. Ironically, the more employees are forced to be physically in an office, mentally they become further away.
An Intentional Mentoring Program Can Strike the Balance
One productive thing an office can provide is the opportunity for mentoring. However, mentoring does not happen naturally on its own. In order for this to occur, a company must provide a structured and intentional mentorship program for its employees. When done properly, this can have extremely effective results and provide both community and connection for its employees.
Structured mentoring and continued education programs often thrive in a hybrid work environment as they provide accountability and support for employees while also allowing for the most productive workspace possible. This type of mentorship and learning gives employees clear goals and expectations as well as the face to face connection needed for growth, learning and constructive feedback.
Hidden Roadblocks to Productivity
Our decision making is often affected by cognitive biases, or what we as a human have already decided is “normal” for any given situation. It’s clear here how cognitive bias can distort our perception of a flexible work environment and how to create the most productive workspace for our employees.
As a culture, the status quo for employees working in an office was set decades ago and mentally stepping outside of that expectation can be challenging. Even when the evidence suggests otherwise, it is often easier to cling to traditional norms than consider something new that goes against what we believe to be true. Similarly, more in-office time was believed to be the solution to more productivity for years. Challenging this solution to the issue of employee productivity can also be challenging, regardless of the studies at hand.
Time for Change
Looking at the evidence, it is clear that forced in-office work is not the solution to increasing employee productivity. In fact, increasing office hours is having the opposite effect; employee disconnection and a lack of results. It’s time for CEO’s and executives to embrace the model of hybrid work and create a more tailored experience for employees for the benefit of everyone involved. By implementing structured training and mentorship programs while embracing flexible office time, companies and employees can have the best of both worlds; increased productivity and an environment of connection and community.