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Workers can be just as productive away from the office, study finds

Pre-pandemic research of work-from-home finds telecommuting had no impact on performance.

The downtown Boston skyline, as seen from the South End.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

A study out of Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health found that remote work does not negatively impact productivity.

The finding comes as many companies are debating whether — and how — to bring employees back into the office full time.

The study doesn’t examine pandemic-induced work from home — it was conducted before remote labor became more commonplace in the spring of 2020, a period when over one-third of the American workforce was telecommuting. A Texas A&M research team examined the productivity at a large oil and gas company in Houston where workers were displaced from the office for seven months by Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that hit Texas in August of 2017.


Researchers looked at worker technology data from 264 white-collar employees over a nearly two-year period spanning before, during, and after the hurricane, and found that employee productivity in the office and at home remained at the same level. Computer use dropped during the hurricane, but productivity rose to pre-storm levels soon after employees began working from home.

The study, published in February, concluded that “the ability to work remotely may improve resiliency of employees to perform workplace tasks during events causing workplace displacement.”

Even though the study was conducted nearly five years ago, researchers suggested that its results could be useful for informing the impact of remote work during the pandemic, or at least provide evidence to support the idea that companies should have remote working policies in place in case of natural disasters or other disruptive events.

“This is a huge message right now for employers because we’re having national debates about whether or not employees should be able to work remotely or in a hybrid schedule,” said Mark Benden, one of the study’s five authors and director of Texas A&M’s Ergonomics Center.


The study adds to a growing body of research about the best ways to blend in-person and remote work as companies emerge from the pandemic. One recent paper out of Harvard Business School found that one or two days of in-person work might be the “sweet spot” of a flexible hybrid schedule.

Annie Probert can be reached at annie.probert@globe.com.