The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

People Who Feel More Productive When Working At Home Are Not The Best Judges Of Their Own Productivity

Managers and employees are clashing about working from home.


Over the past 18 months, millions of workers were thrust into a natural experiment. They were suddenly required to work from home. And now that the pandemic is subsiding, employers are trying terminate that natural experiment. In many fields, employees are resisting, and are demanding flexible work schedules. With the so-called "Great Resignation," some employees are actually leaving their jobs to avoid in-person work requirements.

A common thread in this debate is whether employees are more, or less productive working at home. I've read articles written on both sides of the issue. I don't quite know what to conclude.

What I do know, is that employees demanding to work from home are not the best judges of their capabilities. Most people over-evaluate their abilities. It is human nature. In my experiences, students consistently think they have a handle on material until they flub a tough question or bomb an exam. Then they are quickly brought back to reality. That over-confidence does not vanish at graduation. Workers, at all levels, often view themselves as far more productive and effective than they are. Outside of Lake Wobegon, not everyone can be above average.

Unsurprisingly, workers claim to be more effective by working at home. Objectively, there is less time wasted on the commute. At least superficially, workers had more time every day to work. But were workers actually more productive? Who knows. It's hard to measure pre-pandemic and post-pandemic norms.

It is also tough to generalize about productivity across all sorts of professions. Some jobs are done better in a workplace. Other jobs are done better at home. And some jobs require a mix. We really don't know what the correct balance is.

Fortunately, markets can help work this problem out. Some employers will offer flexible policies. Others will not. And workers can choose.