Report: Remote Workers Have More Privacy and Fewer Interruptions Than In-Person Employees
It’s nice to imagine that when your employees set foot in the office, they all have the space they need to be productive. You’ve probably made significant investments to see that they do. But whether you have an open floor plan, cubicles, neighborhoods, or another layout, your office may actually be more disruptive than an employee’s home office.
This was one of the major findings in The 2023 Future of Work Report. Over the course of several months in 2022, we gathered insights from office workers about common workplace challenges, work preferences, and the potential link between an employer’s office and company culture. In our study, employees who worked full time from their employer’s office rated the frequency of interruptions and lack of privacy as more challenging than their fully remote counterparts.
We asked respondents to rate a series of workplace challenges from 1 to 7, with one meaning that it wasn’t challenging, and seven meaning that it was very challenging. If you’ve been following the conversation about remote work and the return to office over the last few years, you might assume remote workers would have it worse—with kids and cats and roommates constantly demanding their attention. But when we asked our respondents how difficult it is to find privacy and work without interruptions, their answers showed the opposite.
83% of remote respondents reported that finding enough privacy is not challenging, while just 17% of fully in-person respondents said the same.
Half of our fully in-person respondents claimed that frequently experiencing interruptions was challenging, including 17% who indicated it’s very challenging. By contrast, 55% of remote workers reported that it was not challenging.
Remote workers certainly have their share of challenges (which you can learn more about in our full report), but for most, it seems that privacy and interruptions aren’t among them. Still, these self-reported ratings aren’t where the conversation ends. It’s vital that employers understand how in-person and remote workers see the challenges they face, but there are other worthwhile questions about the nature of work interruptions.
Let’s take a moment to investigate.
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Are interruptions at home more disruptive than interruptions at the office?
A home office and an employer’s office are completely different work environments, each with their own potential for disruption. At home, people may share their workspace with friends, family, roommates, or pets, any of which could cause interruptions. In an employers’ office, however, the other occupants are likely all coworkers.
Not all interruptions are inherently bad. A colleague with vital new information could prevent you from wasting the next few hours on a report that’s no longer needed or that wouldn’t meet expectations. A roommate or family member could bring you coffee, lunch, or a treat to boost your morale and give you energy. For every positive interruption, however, most of us experience far more negative interruptions that simply disrupt our concentration and slow down tasks.
Some studies have generously categorized interruptions that take place at the office as “work-related,” implying that where an interruption happens changes its significance. But just because someone works with you doesn’t mean they’re going to be less disruptive than someone who doesn’t. Even managers can inhibit productivity with well-intentioned personal conversations—or questions about productivity! And colleagues are often encouraged to invest in personal relationships with one another to strengthen synergy, network, and make the workplace more enjoyable.
The difference is largely a matter of how accessible a worker is to the people who interrupt them the most. When you don’t physically share space with someone, it’s more difficult for them to immediately demand your attention. And unless someone calls you, it’s often expected that communication will take place asynchronously. At home, a coworker’s personal questions about your weekend can wait until you’re between tasks or taking a break. Same with texts from friends or family when you’re at the office.
This challenge comes down to boundaries. Do employees have the boundaries they need at home or at work to avoid interruptions or lessen them? Do the people who share their workspace push those boundaries or help support them? In some ways it’s a reflection of how their “home” culture compares to their company culture. If anyone—a parent, roommate, coworker, or boss—feels entitled to drop in at any moment for any reason, it’s far more difficult to get the privacy and interruption-free-time you need to be productive, regardless of where you’re working.
One of the best boundaries an employee can establish is a closed door. And in many cases, that’s probably easier for the average office worker to achieve at home.
How have home interruptions changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
From March 2020 through most of 2021, you would’ve been right to think that many remote workers were inundated with distractions, some of which their in-person counterparts didn’t have to deal with. Schools were fully-remote, and work-from-home parents had to play tech support and tutor for several hours a day, in addition to being caretakers for more time than they normally would.
On top of that, the pandemic itself was a constant distraction. For many, the work-life-balance a work-from-home model offers was skewed toward a life of ever-present health concerns, scarcity challenges that required more frequent (and urgent) shopping trips, and uncertainty.
Today’s remote workers face very different circumstances. Kids are back in school, most COVID-19 regulations have relaxed, the panic buying has waned, and people have gained the breathing room they need to find a rhythm. And based on our report, that rhythm has included fewer disruptions to the workday.
Of all the workplace challenges we asked employees about, the greatest difference was in the degree to which remote and fully in-person employees reported struggling with interruptions and finding enough privacy. When it comes down to it, working at the office looks a lot more disruptive.
See the full report
The 2023 Future of Work Report digs into five more workplace challenges, highlighting differences between fully in-person and fully remote workers. But that’s just scratching the surface of our findings. The report also examines differences in perceptions about company culture, work preferences, campus amenities, and desk reservation processes, isolating responses by remote, hybrid, and in-person employees.
You can read the whole report for free, and we won’t even ask for your email.
Tango is a leading provider of Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS). Thousands of businesses use our tools to manage and optimize their space, facilitate office hoteling reservations, optimize their facilities maintenance processes, and organize their lease portfolios. Our customers include some of the most prestigious organizations in the world, and we regularly partner with leading corporate consultants to equip businesses with the insights they need to make informed decisions.