4 min read

Who Works From Home? Autonomy & Motivation

Who Works From Home? Autonomy & Motivation

This week's Socos Academy looks at the gains and losses of remote work, and how we might create something better.

Mad Science Solves...

Several of my recent posts have received a great deal of attention in the last few weeks. In particular, updates on my work in “the neuroscience of trust”, “augmented intelligence (AI) at work”, and “driving collective intelligence & innovation” have each produced wonderful conversations online and in the media. Since many have asked, I thought I’d share explicitly that not only do I give talks on these subjects at conferences, companies, and colleges, but that those talks are really damn good (and funny)! And my favorite part is staying afterwards and answering specific questions from attendees.

Here’s a quick summary of the topics:

  • The Neuroscience of Trust: I’ve given talks for over a decade on the (overwhelming) business case for diversity, and yet progress has been shockingly slow. And so, I began looking inside our own brains to understand why inclusion can be so hard to achieve, even in highly motivated organizations. The results are shocking and demand a very different approach to creating inclusive workplaces and reaping the (again, overwhelming) benefits of a diverse workforce.
  • Augmented Intelligence (AI) at Work: Who doesn’t have questions about AI right now? I built my first model in 1999 and launched my first AI-driven company in 2008. AI can be an amazing tool for changing the world (my current companies are diagnose postpartum depression, accelerate stroke recovery, and innovate innovation), but too many companies and policy makers are trapped thinking of AI as a low-cost substitute for people—a mindset which promises modest gains and substantial downside. Here I explore how augmentive intelligence dramatically lifts human (“creative”) labor without robbing from the future.
  • Driving Collective Intelligence & Innovation: A team of average intelligence is as smart as the smarted individuals, but only under the right conditions. My research details the factors that drive collective intelligence—multidimensionally diverse teams with flat hierarchies—and the cultures that support it. I even explore the emerging world of augmented collective intelligence, such as my latest projects using AI to measure psychological safety in realtime and to dynamically create and even break social network connections to maximize innovation.

Please forgive the unabashed pitch, but it’s faster than answering so many individual emails. Plus, who would have guessed but I actually enjoy giving talks :)

(P.S., given the "Research Roundup" below, yes, I also give talks on transforming hit-or-miss remote work into a new approach: distributed work.)

Learn more on Socos.org

Stage & Screen

Dr. Ming will currently be speaking in Chicago on October 19, New York on October 23, and London on November 15. If you have events, opportunities, or would be interested in hosting a dinner or other event with her, please let us know. We're currently reviewing invitations and can be flexible on fees for paid events for these markets and all 2023 dates!

<<If you are interested in pursuing an opportunity with Vivienne in or around these locations, please reach out ASAP!>>

Research Roundup

Who works from home?

Debates continue to rage on the value and impacts of remote work. New research offers a complex but not particularly positive analysis of “Working from Home”. (Stay tuned: I have more to say at the end.)

Employees were randomly assigned to work from home or in the office. Here are some highlights:

  • productivity dropped by 18%
  • ⅔ of this drop occurs on day 1
  • the remainder comes from “quicker learning by office workers”
  • Interestingly, those who most wanted to work from home were “12% faster and more accurate at baseline” than those who preferred the office, but…
  • were actually even less productive at home (27% less) than workers who wanted to be in the office (13% less).
  • predictors of a desire to work from home: poorer households and childcare

Although these findings look bad for a hybrid work future, they need some context. In “Remote Culture”, I explored the (at the time meager) research on remote work and proposed a distributed work alternative. One of the most consistent findings was don’t send people home because they “want” it; we already knew that “want” correlates with poorer performance. For example, employees higher in neuroticism select remote work in an attempt to lower stress. If instead, we stratified the population by factors predictive of remote success along with remote-specific business practices that promote success, I would expect very different results in the above study.

For the majority of workers, just sending them home without new practices for distributed work is bound to fail.

Autonomy & Motivation

Is there a relationship across countries between “Cultural Values and Productivity”? My own work has seen strong relationships at the individual level for factors like resilience, openness, and strength of purpose. At the company level the relationships are more complex (they tend to interact with individual personalities), but trust is a recurring factor.

In the new research, “cultural values are the only robust predictor” of the large variation in human capital across countries. Much like the complex relationship between company culture and human capital, “cultural values” interact with the economic structure of the country. Of particular importance in a world that places an increasingly large premium on creative labor, individuals from countries that value “autonomy” are much more productive in jobs low in routine labor. And the children of immigrants from high-autonomy countries continue to show this advantage in the next generation.

Human capacity in creative labor tends to increase in cultures that place high value on autonomy. This is an added cultural note to my own research on individual’s endogenous motivation. In a labor market with increase cognitive automation of routine labor, endogenous motivation and autonomy norms aren’t just an advantage, they are fundamental to human dignity.


I just finished redrafting a chapter of How to Robot-Proof explaining why The Diamond Age has more to say about our near our near future than Snow Crash. I also write about the similarly titled The Golden Age, and its exploration of many different types of intelligence, artificial and natural and beyond.

Follow more of my work at
Socos Labs Socos Foundation Data Trust
Dionysus Health Optoceutics
RFK Human Rights GenderCool
Crisis Venture Studios Inclusion Impact Index

Week on!