Fans of remote work often cite studies showing that people who work from home are more productive, like a 2014 study led by the Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. The study examined remote workers at a Chinese travel agency and found that they were 13 percent more efficient than their office-based peers.
But research also shows that what remote workers gain in productivity, they often miss in harder-to-measure benefits like creativity and innovative thinking. Studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators, and that team cohesion suffers in remote work arrangements.
Remote workers also tend to take shorter breaks and fewer sick days than office-based ones, and in studies, many report finding it hard to separate their work from their home lives. That’s a good thing if you’re a boss looking to squeeze extra efficiency out of your employees, but less ideal if you’re someone trying to achieve some work-life balance.
Working in isolation can be lonely, which explains the popularity of co-working spaces like WeWork and The Wing. Even in Silicon Valley, where the tools that allow for remote work are being built, many companies are strict about requiring their workers to come into the office.
Steve Jobs, for one, was a famous opponent of remote work, believing that Apple employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into other people, not sitting at home in front of an email inbox.
“Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions,” Mr. Jobs said. “You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
I’ll grant that office work has its downsides, even in healthy times. Commuting has been shown to make us less happy, and the open-plan office, a truly cursed workplace design trend that emphasizes airy spaces with rows of desks and little privacy, has made distraction-free focus nearly impossible.