Long-term remote work is leading to a global drop in productivity

As some parts of the world begin to return to the office in the wake of COVID-19, data suggests that working from home comes with a "productivity tax."

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A report on remote work productivity during the pandemic found that productivity among employees working from home due to COVID-19 has dropped in what the report authors call a "productivity tax" on remote work. The report is the latest in a series of remote work reports from enterprise software company Aternity. TechRepublic has covered the previous volumes, with this particular one being the fifth. 

Focusing on "the next normal," volume five covers how the pandemic is changing remote work, and how companies returning to offices in some parts of the world are making lost productivity among home-based workers even more stark.

US employees are leading the pack both in terms of the amount still working remotely, and productivity declines as reported by Aternity: 85% are still away from the office and their overall productivity has dropped by 14%. 

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The high rate of US workers still operating remotely is no surprise, as COVID-19 cases in the US recently passed four million, with a full quarter of them coming in the last two weeks alone. Many countries around the world, particularly in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, have started returning to offices, which the report shows has led to overall increases in productivity. 

European countries that have largely ended remote work programs have shown large productivity increases: France has seen total productivity increase by 113%, Italy by 100%, and the Netherlands by 52%. The report attributes these changes not only to less non-work responsibilities, like childcare, but also due to improved tech support while in the office.

Better on-premise tech support from IT, superior hardware for resource-intensive tasks, and the elimination of slow VPN connections are all cited as potential reasons for an increase in productivity while back in the office. 

Aternity defines productivity in its report as "hours spent on business applications," and the charts in its latest report show more time spent in business applications while remote, despite "the volume of business activities executed by employees at home [being] about the same as it was pre-pandemic," said Aternity head of product marketing, Mike Marks.

Aternity's metrics have to do with the effects of IT performance on employee productivity, and "the performance of some types of business-critical apps is significantly slower when accessed by remote employees vs employees in the office," Marks said. SaaS apps work fine, for instance, but apps running in a company's own data center or files that have to be transferred from in-house to a remote worker are much slower than they would be if those users were in the office. 

The "productivity tax" as explained in this report makes it clear that, while productivity among remote workers may be decreasing, it's not necessarily entirely their fault: The apps they use and the work they do is slowed down by IT issues when working remotely, requiring more time to do the same work that could be accomplished far quicker in the distant past of the pre-pandemic era.

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