Remote work has expanded significantly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and is likely to remain common practice in the future. Its effects on business productivity are open to debate, but the economic literature highlights the need for appropriate preparation to take full advantage of it.
Various studies have examined the effects of remote work on productivity, with contrasting results. Some research, such as Bloom et al (2015), found that teleworkers were significantly more productive, with productivity gains of around 20%. However, other studies, such as that by Morikawa (2020), found a drop in productivity of around 40% when there was a sudden switch to remote work without adequate preparation.
It is important to note that these conflicting assessments are difficult to compare due to differences in context, activity, qualification and country. Nevertheless, they highlight a common lesson: the positive effects of telework on productivity depend on several factors. It is essential that workers and management are committed to this form of working, that all those involved are prepared and trained, and that the equipment and environment for working from home are appropriate.
Reduced interaction between colleagues can limit the flow of information within the professional sphere, which can be detrimental to productivity. According to an OECD analysis (2020), the relationship between performance gains and the intensity of remote work follows an inverted U-shaped curve, with the optimal mix depending on the activity.
Other factors such as company size and the nature of the tasks performed can also influence the impact of telework on productivity. For example, the effect may differ depending on whether the tasks are creative or repetitive. In addition, it is difficult to accurately assess the effect of remote work on productivity because of the many selection biases associated with the fact that workers who are prepared to work from home are generally more motivated, make more effort and perform better.
During the 2020 confinements, the switch to remote work was often made under unfavourable conditions, limiting any positive effects on productivity. This was done without consultation, without appropriate equipment, and without prior preparation or training for workers and their managers. In addition, the environment may not have been conducive to effective working, particularly in the presence of children when school facilities were closed.
There are several mechanisms that can explain the positive effects of remote work on productivity. These include greater motivation due to the flexibility and autonomy given to teleworkers in choosing their place of work and organising their professional and personal lives. The time saved by not having to travel can also contribute to an apparent increase in productivity. In addition, the reduction in non-essential meetings and distractions can improve teleworkers' efficiency. Finally, remote wor can help accelerate the digitisation of the economy and the use of digital technologies, which can lead to longer-term productivity gains.
There is a fall in apparent labour productivity in France, measured by relating wealth creation (GDP) in volume to the number of employees or the volume of hours worked. However, it is important to note that this decline is not observed if production is measured in terms of turnover rather than value added.
Apparent labour productivity is seen as an indicator of the fact that less work is needed to produce the same wealth. However, this measure does not take into account the way in which these productivity gains are achieved. They may result from a more intensive use of labour, with a deterioration in employees' living and working conditions, rather than from an improvement in the efficiency of technologies or the organisation of production.
It should also be noted that labour productivity levels in France are among the highest in the world, but this does not prevent economic difficulties and problems of competitiveness, as demonstrated by the record trade deficit recorded in 2022.
In Germany, apparent labour productivity levels are lower, but the apparent productivity of capital is higher, allowing German capital to obtain a higher rate of profit without completely crushing living labour and workers.
The statistics also show a decline in the efficiency of fixed capital in France, indicating that the value added generated by each unit of investment is tending to fall.
A number of factors are put forward to explain the recent fall in apparent labour productivity in France, including the 'productivity cycle' associated with the economic recovery, changes in the composition of employment with an increase in apprenticeships and sandwich courses, the increase in sick leave following the pandemic, and policies to reduce labour costs.
In summary, the statistics point to a decline in apparent labour productivity in France, which raises concerns about economic efficiency and competitiveness. However, it is important to analyse the causes of this decline and to take into account other aspects of productivity, such as capital productivity and equipment utilisation, to get a more complete picture of the economic situation.