Productivity has exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time ever as the nation successfully adapts to working from home, new data suggests.
Some employers have expressed concern that remote working is making staff less creative, with one boss recently claiming ‘lazy’ people avoid going to the office because they ‘just want to watch Loose Women’.
The topic has remained contentious following the end of England’s work from home guidance, with research suggesting more of us than ever want to continue working remotely.
Now, new data suggests employers may benefit from offering this to staff.
Output-per-hour exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time at the end of last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The measure of the nation’s productivity was also higher in the last months of 2021 than in the previous quarter, despite work from home guidance being brought in again over the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Economists said it was still too soon to assess the full impact of working from home and hybrid working.
But Bart Van Ark, professor of productivity studies at the University of Manchester, said: ‘I would say we have learnt to work from home in a way that avoids significant productivity losses.
‘Now that we see this sort of improvement in Q4 over Q3, it seems to suggest that move back to work from home [because of Omicron] didn’t really impact productivity much.’
Output per hour worked was 2.3% above the 2019 average in the last quarter of 2021, according to the estimates published yesterday.
It was also 1% higher than the previous three-month period, despite December’s work from home guidance prompting a spike in those working away from the office.
Output per worker also rose by 0.8% during the October-to-December quarter, compared with 2019. It was up 1.1% from the previous quarter.
Studies have previously suggested working from home makes Brits feel more productive, with the increased flexibility of working hours and location linked to a decline in burnout and improved mental health.
Separate ONS data shows around one third of Brits are still working from home some days, despite being free to go back to the office since the government repealed its Plan B restrictions nearly a month ago.
A YouGov poll in September found 60% of Brits would prefer to work remotely always or some of the time if they could choose, and many employers have also noted the benefits of hybrid working.
However, some business leaders have reservations.
Recruitment boss James Cox came under fire after claiming only ‘lazy’ people only want to work from home.
He wrote: ‘You want to work from home! So you don’t have to get dressed at 6am? So you can save money on travel? So that you can watch Loose Women on your lunch break?’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also warned young people that working from home might harm their careers, and last month moved to close a tax loophole that encouraged working from home and cost the Treasury more than £500m.
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