Remote or in the Office? Data Shows There’s No One Answer

Research has conflicting answers on whether remote work can be as innovative as in-person
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The pandemic generated much inquiry, research and conversation about remote work, and settled at least one issue: that remote or hybrid work can maintain or increase productivity at workplaces that had been office-based.

The remote-productivity principle does not apply to schools, stores, restaurants and other workplaces, but “offices” can remain productive if they are well-managed.

How can we be sure? Most companies learned before the pandemic how to measure the productivity of their employees and teams and those measures generally held up or improved during the pandemic.

The remaining debates over remote and hybrid work now center on things harder to measure, like team-building, collaboration and innovation.

Let me acknowledge my conflict of interest: I prefer remote work for a thousand reasons and prefer in-person work for just one main reason: I love being with my colleagues and other friends in the community.


Collaboration and Innovation

But other leaders and managers want to discourage entirely remote work because they believe in-person work is essential to creating and maintaining collaborative and innovative teams.

There is evidence on their side. A peer-reviewed study of Microsoft’s 61,000 workers in the U.S. concluded that the move to remote work in 2020 reduced communication between different teams, and the modes of communication changed too.

For instance, there were fewer face-to-face meetings – including video calls – and more emails and texts, according to the September 2021 report in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

That’s a problem because “media synchronicity theory proposes that asynchronous communication channels (such as email) are better suited for conveying information and synchronous channels (such as video calls) are better suited for converging on the meaning of information,” the report says.

Plus previous research “has shown that establishing a rapport, which is an important precursor to knowledge transfer, is impeded by email use, and that in-person and phone/video communication are more strongly associated with positive team performance than email and instant message (IM) communication.”

Read the full report at

Before you say “case closed” consider an October 2021 report in Scientific American by Gleb Tsipursky, a behavioral scientist and CEO of the consulting company Disaster Avoidance Experts, which takes a contrary view.

Tsipursky cites numerous peer-reviewed studies from different experts that show traditional in-person brain-storming is much worse for producing innovative ideas than other best practices.

“Fear of losing their innovative edge pushes many leaders to reject hybrid and virtual work arrangements,” he writes. “Yet extensive research shows that hybrid and remote teams can gain an innovation advantage and out-compete in-person teams by adopting best practices for innovation, such as virtual brainstorming.”

His critique rings true to me because I have spent too much time in brainstorming meetings that produced fl awed results. And his seven-step asynchronous alternative seems like a more rational approach – for example welcoming anonymous ideas from the introverted and criticism-averse employees who rarely speak up in free-for-all brainstorms.

Read Tsipursky’s report at to see if he persuades you too.


Weekly Coverage of Real Estate

Hawaii Business Magazine frequently addresses the barriers to building affordable housing and the different policies that might help, including reports in both the February and March issues. We will continue covering that issue until it is no longer an issue.

Starting in January, we stepped up our coverage of other parts of residential real estate by launching a free weekly e-newsletter called Hawai‘i Real Estate News. HREN arrives every Tuesday in your inbox and features exclusive reports on local real estate from longtime Hawai‘i real estate reporter Janis Magin Meierdiercks, links to important local and national articles, plus content from our partners.

You can subscribe for free at

Some of Janis’ best reports will appear in our print/digital editions, like stories inside this issue on leasehold condos and ultra-luxury sales, but you will find them first in the newsletter.



Categories: Opinion