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Remote Workers Are Wasting More Than an Hour a Day on Productivity Theater, New Report Finds

Jessica Stillman
4 min readSep 29, 2022

One of the big benefits promised by remote work is the end of “productivity theater.” If you’re a hundred miles away from your boss why would you bother creating yet another project tracking document or scheduling pointless meetings just to appear busy? She can’t see you so why not slip in 20 minutes of yoga or feed your cat until you actually have something to do?

That kind of flexibility is, of course, a more humane and sensible way to work. But experts also insist that not rushing to fill every spare moment of your workday actually helps you get more done in the long-run too.

Which makes this kind of truly flexible and asynchronous work deeply seductive. Unfortunately, according to a new report by software companies Qatalog and GitLab, it’s still mostly not happening. Remote workers continue to waste more than an hour of every day performing productivity, it found.

Old habits die hard.

Drawing on surveys of 2,000 knowledge workers in the US and UK, the two companies’ new ‘Killing Time at Work’ report finds that online workers are behaving too much like cubicle warriors of decades past.

“The dramatic workplace shifts of the pandemic gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape how we work forever. We could have restructured work to be asynchronous, allowing us to build work around our lives, but we failed. Now, our research shows we’re falling back into old habits — ones that should have been cast aside when we had the chance,” writes Qatalog founder and CEO Tariq Rauf in the report.

In practice, that looks like remote workers joining Zoom meetings they know will be worthless, responding to emails at strategically selected hours, or other forms of being ostentatiously online to convince colleagues they’re working long and hard enough. This kind of digital presenteeism eats up a full 67 minutes of the average remote worker’s day, the research found. That a lot of time wasted on productivity theater.

It also probably means lower quality work as well, according to the report. “An overwhelming majority of people (81%) believe they are more productive and create higher quality output when they have…

Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/