Some managers worry that telecommuting employees will be distracted and less productive, and as a result are reluctant to approve work-from-home arrangements at all or will approve them only in unusual circumstances. After all, their worry goes, can people really be as productive when they don’t have the immediate accountability of coworkers seeing how they’re spending their day, and when their home is filled with distractions like TV, pets, and the chance to get caught up on the laundry?
But new research suggests that the opposite of this fear is true: that working from home can actually increase productivity.
Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom set up an experiment with one company, where some workers were allowed to work from home for nine months, while others remained in the office. At the end of the study period, the employees who worked from home were significantly more productive – as well as happier and less likely to quit.
“The results we saw … blew me away,” Bloom wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review. The company “was thinking that it could save money on space and furniture if people worked from home and that the savings would outweigh the productivity hit it would take when employees left the discipline of the office environment. Instead, we found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that (the company) got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”
The research attributed one-third of the productivity increase to workers having a quieter environment with fewer distractions (like chats with coworkers or announcements of doughnuts in the kitchen). Two-thirds of increase was due to people at home working more hours. Because they didn’t have a commute, they started work earlier, worked longer, and took fewer breaks. Moreover, their sick days decreased significantly.
If you’re an employee trying to convince your company to let you work from home, at least on occasion, you might consider sharing this data with your boss. And if you’re a manager who’s not entirely comfortable letting people telecommute, this research might give you a higher comfort level with letting staff members at least experiment with occasional work-from-home days.