Tell the Truth: Where Are You Most Productive?

Interesting post today where Steve King at Small Business Labs asks Is The Traditional Office the Least Productive Place to Work? He cites professional research and uses clear logic. But I still think there’s a catch.


He starts with surveys indicating that people who work in coworking locations say they are more productive than working at home.

Which he follows with surveys indicating that people report working at home is more productive than working in company offices.

Which he takes to this conclusion:

This suggests that the least productive place to work is a traditional office.

But wait — coworking is working in an office with people who aren’t part of the same team, right? So working in an office is more productive than working at home, but only if those around you aren’t part of the same team? What’s wrong with this picture? I know and like Steve King and he’s a professional researcher, so it’s not a problem with the research. But could it be …

  1. People often answer surveys with the answer that makes them feel best about themselves and the choices they’ve made, so the home office worker is compelled to claim productivity and the coworking office worker is too, but the traditional office worker isn’t? That might explain the research.
  2. And for that matter, how well does any of us really evaluate our own productivity in different situations? I’m going to claim to be most productive at the place I most like to be.
  3. And productivity by location is an entirely new concept over the last few years. Even in the office, I’m located where my attention is pointing. I might look like I’m in the office in a traditional office mode when I’m on Twitter or instant messenger with my mind entirely out of the office, chatting with friends. And if, in that moment, a survey taker asks me about it, I’m going to say I’m really productive right there.

What do you think?


  • Do We Have Any Idea What Productivity Really Is? says:

    […] posted tell the truth: where are you most productive last week, questioning how people answer to surveys on where they are most productive. last week on […]

  • AviD says:

    Subjectivity aside (and there are some that are good at comparing their own productivity, especially programmers), there are two more issues that should be considered, even if we accept Steve’s data.

    1. Interruptions. Part of the reason that working in a “traditional” office is so unproductive, is the constant interruptions. Peoplesoft talked about that a lot…
    You get interrupted a lot less while working at home. That said, having a home office for the past couple years, I can say that once the rest of the family comes home, I get interrupted a LOT.
    Not so at a coworking facility, where for the most part everyone leaves everyone else alone (aside from perhaps friendly banter and such). In general you can have much longer periods of flow, and more often.
    (Of course, this still doesnt take into consideration self-interruptions, such as email/facebook/twitter/etc…)

    2. Length of time. What I’m referring to here, is that “working from home” is often an exception, a temporary or part-time solution, in comparison to the traditional office. Whereas coworking is typically long-term, full-time schedule.
    What this means to me is, if you break up the frustration of the office environment periodically with the home-working, you get overall productivity boost, allowing you to focus your flow time accordingly.
    On the other hand, I would guess that most coworkers had been working full-time out of their home office, before they went co. Compared to that, the home work lost its boost, and the coworking indeed became relatively more productive.
    That is to say, parttime-home > office, coworking > fulltime-home…. Apples and oranges.

    Bottom line – I agree with Steve, more research needed. And, I’ll add something that Peoplesoft alluded to that is still correct – a non-traditional office environment, that is consistenly more productive than ALL the above, CAN be designed.

  • Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    I would much rather see research that measured people’s actual productivity. I find people are often poor judges of their own productivity, and their own effectiveness. It’s hard to do something and measure it from the same brain at the same time. These are much more emotional responses than factual stuff.

    Also, it assumes that there is no difference between you being personally productive and the organization being productive. If you get stuff done but 10 other people aren’t able to get their important questions answered, then was it really better?

  • Steve says:

    Tim: Good points. The surveys I reference are all based on the perceptions of the respondents. None of them are based on a quantitative analysis of actual work through-put.

    I’m not sure what the answer is (which is why my title is in the form of a question).

    I think one possible reason is the dislike of work in general – worker satisfaction levels are near all time lows. I think another reason the desire for flexible work. Both make working at home or a coworking facility more attractive.

    I think this is an area where more work needs to be done.

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