One of the few silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic is that it moved up the distributed work timeline. Dealing with lockdowns and quarantine measures more or less necessitated a shift towards telecommuting. And in the process, we discovered something.
Given the right tools, working from home allowed us to be more focused. We got more done, and we’re overall more satisfied with our work. Once the pandemic has ended, there’s no returning to the way things were.
In a survey published by Statista, 45.2% of employees indicated that they wanted to work from home at least occasionally, with another 22.8% expressing the desire to telecommute full time. It isn’t difficult to understand why, either. While there are certainly challenges associated with remote work, it also helps us be more focused, productive, and ultimately satisfied with our jobs.
As it turns out, a big part of the reason is that it allows us to avoid arguably the worst part of the workday — commuting. This was the conclusion of a study recently published in the Journal of Urban Economics by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor of Business Administration Andy Wu. Titled Commuting and Innovation: Are Closer Inventors More Productive?, the study concluded that for every 10 km of distance between their home and workplace, inventors saw a 5% decrease in patent volume and a 7% decrease in patent quality.
“It’s amazing how robust the results are. Commuting hurts both innovative quantity and quality, [particularly for an organization’s highest-performing workers],” Wu said, speaking to Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. “If firms want to make sure their best knowledge workers innovate at their peak, keep them closer to where they work…for inventors with long commutes, any distance you can reduce the commute, you can gain in innovative productivity.”
This research is in addition to a study published in 2016, which per The Washington Post found a troubling correlation between long commutes and negative health outcomes like heart disease.
These studies together present yet another compelling argument in favor of distributed work. Allowing your employees to work from home ultimately results in happier, healthier, more productive staff. And even in situations where some in-person collaboration is necessary, it’s still possible to support a hybrid workforce.
Deploying the necessary software and policies isn’t the only way businesses can remove the stress of commuting, and any of the following could potentially work wonders:
- Offering a substantial bonus to employees that are willing to relocate closer to their workplace.
- Opening satellite offices to help reduce travel time.
- Treating the morning commute as paid time.
- Promoting flexible scheduling, particularly for staff located a significant distance from the office.
The pandemic has shown us the real value of remote work. Even once it ends, very few people will be willing to return to the previous status quo. Nor should they — cutting out travel time is only one of many benefits provided by a distributed workforce. Before long, any business that doesn’t support one will likely find itself at a competitive disadvantage.