Working from home can be something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it affords you the freedom and flexibility to work at your own pace, on your own terms, which may allow you to get more done. On the other hand, without a strict structure to your day, or continual monitoring from those that hold you accountable, it can be easy to get distracted, ultimately losing productivity instead of gaining it.
So, which is the case? Are you more or less productive when you work from home? The debate has gone on for years. But now, it may finally have been resolved. A two-year study from Stanford University has determined that employees who work from home accomplish significantly more than those who come into the office each day.
In an experiment conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, a selection of employees from the Chinese travel agency Ctrip were divided into two groups of 250 people each. The first group continued to come in to work as usual. The second group was allowed to work from home, provided they had a private room from which to do so, as well as reliable Internet access.
Bloom measured the productivity of both over the course of two years. He hypothesized that the benefits and obstacles inherent in each type of work would balance one another out, and the output would be approximately the same. But as it happened, the group who conducted their work from home demonstrated significantly higher productivity levels by the end of the study.
In fact, once the study was over, Ctrip reorganized their employee structure to have fewer employees coming in to headquarters and allow more to work from home. In so doing, they were able to reduce the amount of office space they needed to rent, saving around $2,000 per employee while boosting productivity levels.
The benefits of working from home
What causes this productivity boost? There are a number of factors in play. For one thing, the lack of a commute means workers don’t have to deal with traffic and other factors that could cause them to come in late or leave early. Thus telecommuting employees tend to start their shifts on time and work through to the end with greater reliability than on-site employees.
They also were found to take shorter breaks than employees who come in to work. They take those breaks on their own schedule, when they need them, and come back once they’re feeling energized, rather than breaking up their workflow by taking them at a specific time every day.
Finally, employees working from home were found to take fewer sick days than those in the office. The lack of a commute could motivate them to come in when they otherwise wouldn’t, knowing that they can stop whenever they need to. Or not being in close quarters with other employees could mean that diseases aren’t spread as easily around the entire workplace. Either way, employees who work from home are sick less and work more.
Making the transition
If the productivity of telecommuters really is better, why not simply eliminate your office space altogether and have all your employees work from home? Well you don’t need to work 100% remote to receive benefits of working from home.
From his observations, Bloom recommends that workers start by splitting work time equally between the two. This allows employees to remain accountable to headquarters and connected to a central group, while still providing them with the freedom to work on their own time, and in their own way.
If management is not on board, then you may have to look elsewhere for organizations that are set up for remote work like Catalyte. Sometimes it is better to join a group of like-minded thinkers than to try and convert a stagnant organization.