In-Depth: How Does Working From Home Influence Teamwork?

An exploration of scientific studies and their conclusions about working from home versus working from the office

The Liberators
Published in
11 min readFeb 26, 2024

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we work. To prevent employees from infecting each other and to comply with lockdowns, organizations quickly expanded the ability for employees to work from home. While employees generally celebrated this change, employers seemed less enthused. So when the pandemic ended, many organizations reduced the allowance for working from home or even disallowed it altogether. A common theme is that working from home harms teamwork and reduces the performance of individual workers and teams.

In this post, I will bring a scientific perspective to this question. I aim to review the current scientific evidence around how working from home affects employees and teams and to offer practical recommendations. To prepare, I searched Google Scholar for empirical studies about “working from home” combined with “productivity” or “performance.”

This post is part of our “in-depth” series. Each post discusses scientific research that is relevant to our work with Scrum and Agile teams. With this series, we hope to contribute to more evidence-based conversations in our community and a stronger reliance on robust research over (only) personal opinions. However, this also takes a lot more time. It took us 31 hours to research and write this post. If you think it is worthwhile to have more of these posts, please consider supporting us through Patreon at patreon.com/liberators.

Results from empirical studies

Below I summarize the results from recent empirical studies on how working from home impacts employees and teams.

Studies before COVID-19

The largest study to date was performed by Van der Lippe & Lippényi (2019). They used data from 9 countries, 259 organizations, 869 teams, and 11,011 employees. Their measurements included both self-reported performance by employees and manager-reported ratings for teams. The authors found that working from home negatively affected employee performance and team performance. To put this into context, the authors write: “If a team were to increase working from home by eight hours or more, the likelihood of a very good performance evaluation decreases by 70 percent as compared to teams in which no workers work from home”. This study was performed before COVID-19 hit.

Golden (2007) studied 240 professionals. He found that the job satisfaction of people who do not work from home decreases as their co-workers work more from home. Those co-workers are also more likely to seek another job. However, the negative effect of working from home is much smaller when co-workers have high autonomy.

Collins, Hislop & Cartwright (2016) interviewed 33 employees of a large governmental agency. Their interviews suggest that people who work from home feel increasingly socially distant from colleagues who work in the office. This effect grows stronger as people work from home longer. On the other hand, this study also suggests that people who work from home build stronger social support networks with colleagues who also work from home.

If people work from home most of the time, social cohesion with colleagues who don’t work from home tends to decrease. Picture by Free-Photos from Pixabay.

Vega, Anderson & Kaplan (2014) measured performance, satisfaction, and creativity for 180 professionals over five consecutive work days as they worked from the office or from home (on average 2.13 days from home). Their results showed that working from home improved self-reported job satisfaction and job performance, but not creativity. However, the effects were quite small overall. Another study by the same authors (2014) with a similar design and a sample of 102 employees also showed higher job satisfaction while people worked from home. However, they also found that individual differences moderated this effect. Employees who tended to ruminate about their work reported lower job satisfaction while working from home. On the other hand, people with high openness and/or many social connections outside of work reported higher job satisfaction while working from home.

Bloom et. al. (2018) report on a quasi-experiment at a large Chinese call center operator. 249 employees participated in a “treatment group” where they would work from home 4 days and week and be at the office 1 day a week. Their results were compared to the other employees who worked from the office the entire week. The authors reported that “Home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment)”. Furthermore, work satisfaction was higher for home workers and they were less likely to seek other employment. However, home workers were passed over for promotion. A caveat of this study is that participants self-selected into the “treatment group”, often because of long home-work commutes.

Finally, a study by Ramos & Prasetyo (2020) investigated how a new policy in the Philipines to enable remote work impacted productivity. Based on survey data from 250 participants, they concluded that working from home improved job satisfaction and productivity, and did not impact job stress (positively or negatively). Job performance did decrease, however,

Empirical Studies during COVID-19

The studies I reported up to this point were performed before COVID-19. The pandemic suddenly required organizations in many countries, small and large, to switch to working from home. In what could be considered the greatest working-from-home experiment ever done, many researchers investigated how this impacted teams and individuals. A caveat of all these studies is that any negative effects on productivity and well-being may also have been caused by the pandemic, the result of social distancing, and the overall anxiety that it sparked.

Guler et al. (2021) surveyed 194 office workers during COVID-19. The researchers found that employees reported higher productivity, but also struggled with the physical consequences of working from home offices that weren’t yet equipped with ergonomic chairs and desks.

For a team we formed to organize an LS Immersion workshop, most of the work was done remotely. However, we went to Hamburg together to learn and develop the workshop together to build cohesion.

Cucolas & Russo (2023) analyzed how working from home influences project success for 138 software developers. They found a positive effect of working from home on self-reported project success. The use of an Agile approach (in this case Scrum) strengthened this effect, which suggests that the recurring events proposed by Scrum improve coordination within teams that consist of people who work from home and those who do not. Another study by Russo, Hanel & Van Berkel (2023) followed 192 developers throughout five measurements during the COVID-19 pandemic. They found no decrease in productivity over this period, although well-being did decrease over time. However, since this study was performed exclusively during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on well-being may also be the result of the pandemic rather than working from home.

Finally, a study by Farooq & Sultana (2022) surveyed 250 participants from different sectors in India. Their results showed a negative effect of working from home on self-reported productivity.

In summary

So what is one to make of these results? We begin with productivity and job performance. The studies by Vega, Anderson & Kaplan (2014), Bloom et. al. (2018), Guler et al. (2021), and Cucolas & Russo (2023) report improved productivity, project success, or performance. Ramos & Prasetyo (2020) shows that productivity increases, but performance decreases. On the other hand, Farooq & Sultana (2022) and Van der Lippe & Lippényi (2019) report lower productivity or performance. These mixed results are also reported in a literature review by Hackney et. al. (2022). From the 37 studies they reviewed before COVID-19, 79% reported increased productivity and performance, whereas 21% showed mixed or no effects. They also note that more studies reported negative effects during COVID-19, with 23% positive effects, 38% no effects, and 38% negative effects. These mixed findings suggest that context plays a substantial role. Some of the variables already identified are support structures, the number of other colleagues who also work from home, gender, and autonomy.

However, performance and productivity are one side of the coin. The other is the satisfaction of employees with their jobs. Here, the picture is much clearer. All studies that investigated the link between working from home and job satisfaction reported a positive effect on job satisfaction. However, working from home may negatively affect the satisfaction of co-workers who do not work from home and lack autonomy (Golden, 2007), and social cohesion decreases (Collins, Hislop & Cartwright, 2016).

“All studies that investigated the link between working from home and job satisfaction reported a positive effect on job satisfaction.”

How working from home impacts teamwork

A limitation of most studies I reported in this post is that they focus on individual performance and satisfaction instead of teams and teamwork. Cucolas & Russo (2023) suggest that a team-based Agile methodology like Scrum can increase project success due to its focus on teamwork. Several studies suggest that social cohesion decreases when people work from home (Collins, Hislop & Cartwright, 2016), which fits anecdotal evidence. But to what extent working from affects teamwork, the productivity of teams, and what can be done to support teams remains largely unstudied.

Social cohesion

A clear challenge to working from home is the potential loss of social cohesion in teams. Group cohesion is a key variable of effective work teams (Hackman, 1987, Carless & De Paola, 2000). Social cohesion reflects the social realities of a team. Do members identify with each other? Do members identify as members of that team? Do members like being part of the team? More simply put, it reflects to which extent the team fulfills the social needs of people, such as being recognized by others and being part of something greater. Studies suggest that social cohesion encourages members to work together on tasks rather than apart (Zaccaro & Lowe, 1988). So any loss in social cohesion is likely to reduce the ability of teams to become (or remain) high-performing (Hackman, 1987).

Team cognition

Another perspective on teamwork originates from cognitive psychology. It treats teams as information processors (Hinsz, Tindale & Vollrath, 1997). Because each member brings their own cognitive resources (skills, viewpoints, preferences, capabilities), teams have to learn how to organize those resources and task-related information to work on shared tasks. This is called team cognition (DeChurch & Mesmer-Magnus, 2010). This is like a “team mind” that contains knowledge about “how things are done in this team”, like who has which skills, how members like to collaborate, what implicit steps members go through when they work on tasks, and so on. Such a team mind contributes clearly to team effectiveness (Kearny, Gebert & Voelpel, 2009). While the link between working from home and team cognition has not yet been studied to my knowledge, it will likely take a greater effort in teams where people either work partially or fully from home.

Mental health

Finally, working from home can influence mental health differently than working in the office. A literature review by Oakman et al. (2020) found that some studies report increased stress and fatigue, while others report lower stress and fatigue. Organizational support structures, gender, work-home policies, and the level of autonomy all seem to moderate this effect. Because working from home reduces commute time and leaves more time for other activities, most respondents report increased quality of life. On the other hand, employees often feel they have to be more visible when working from home (digital presenteeism) and work longer hours.

Mental health may be impacted negatively if people work work from home feel monitored. Illustration by .

Practical implications

We will now develop several practical implications based on the results. Please note that the amount of evidence-based research in this area is still limited. So I will extrapolate from the evidence we have.

Strategy 1: Adjust policies to the type of work and individuals

If the studies make one thing clear, it is that the effect of working from home depends on many factors. Working from home is generally much easier for work that doesn’t require regular teamwork and doesn’t require face-to-face interactions (Bloom et al., 2018). There are also individual differences, like the need for social connection, the need for autonomy, and rumination (Anderson, Kaplan & Vega, 2014).

So when you develop policies for working from home, we recommend taking such variables into account. Ideally, teams should be able to set their policies as they know their preferences, experience, and need for in-office work best.

Strategy 2: Attract and retain employees by working from home

Working from home increases job satisfaction and quality of life. These are desirable properties for existing and prospective employees. Employers can distinguish themselves from competitors in a tight labor market by emphasizing the opportunities to work from home. This can be further bolstered with strong support structures, like ergonomic equipment for home offices, virtual tooling that simplifies connecting with colleagues (like Miro, Mural, and Zoom), coaching and training, and frequent social events. Training is particularly relevant to management, who often need to switch from traditional top-down leadership to more supportive styles of leadership (Hackney et al., 2022).

Team-building activities are particularly important for teams where members work from home a lot. Picture by (also on the left).

Strategy 3: Spend time on team building

Teamwork will likely be impacted when members work from home, especially as the frequency increases. Without specific intervention, we expect that social cohesion and task cohesion will decrease, as will team cognition. To counteract this, we highly recommend that organizations and teams invest in team-building activities to build social cohesion and team spirit.

Such activities can aim at developing a shared team identity, shared norms and values, and shared experiences and rituals. We offer more specific examples of each in this post. Team-building should be an ongoing activity rather than a once or once-per-year activity. They can also be organized in person or virtually. Particularly in teams with a high frequency of working from home, such sessions will keep and forge members into a team.

Closing Words

During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations across the globe were forced to adapt to working from home. Many such policies still exist, although there are anecdotal signs that some organizations are reverting to pre-COVID-19 policies that restrict working from home. The assumption here is that working from home negatively affects teamwork and performance.

However, the evidence I outlined in this post is far from clear-cut. Many studies report improved productivity and performance while others show a negative impact. What is clear though, is that job satisfaction and quality of life improve for employees. Unfortunately, robust evidence from meta-analysis is still missing on this topic so we have to make do with individual studies and the scarce literature reviews that exist.

Despite the mixed findings, it is likely that working from home negatively impacts teamwork if nothing is done to support it. Social cohesion and task cohesion may degrade, and team cognition is hard to develop without frequent interaction. However, organizations can develop support structures to help teams become high-performing. This is a more effective strategy than trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Whether organizations like working from home or not, many employees will vote with their feet and move to more supportive employers.

Note: Together with

, we are working on our empirical study to investigate how working from home impacts Agile teams. We use data from the Scrum Team Survey to investigate how working from home affects team effectiveness and stakeholder-reported satisfaction.

If you think these in-depth posts are useful, please support us so we can write more of them. Check out patreon.com/liberators for the options

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Christiaan Verwijs
The Liberators

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Developer, organizational psychologist, scientist, and Scrum Master.