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The productivity of working from home

11.04.2013
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The issue of whether working remotely is a good thing or not is one that often gets tossed around.  The arguments are fairly well trodden.

On the plus side, home workers avoid the lengthy and stressful commutes to/from work, so often put in more hours than their office based colleagues.  They are also free from distraction, so can focus more on their work, thus getting more out of their day, all the while enjoying their work more and thus being more engaged.

The flipside is that managers can’t monitor what they’re doing, and when people are not visible in the workplace they are not as tightly integrated into the team as otherwise might be the case.  Oh, and research shows that these folks tend to miss out on promotions.

A new survey has lent weight to the pro camp, revealing that flexible working is all in all a very positive step for companies to take.  The study, conducted by the University of Melbourne highlights the shifting work patterns as a result of digital workplaces.  Researcher Dr Rachelle Bosua was encouraged by the findings on remote productivity.

“Our findings indicate a positive relationship between the ability to telework and well-being which in turn contributes to more productive workers. “

“In addition, work and family life is getting more blended and entwined. These elements pose unique challenges to successfully manage a new era of flexible workers and measure outputs.”

“Our study confirms that flexible work is a way for managers to invest in the wellbeing of their workers increasing productivity, job satisfaction, and retaining talented workers”. 

The research, which surveyed more than 1800 employees and almost 100 HR and senior managers in 50 businesses and organisations across New Zealand and Australia, found that teleworkers believe their flexible work arrangements allowed them to be more productive and to perform better at work, while managers found they delivered better work outcomes and suffered less from absenteeism.Now it should be said that the study was commissioned by Cisco, who of course provide a number of tools to enable flexible working.  The findings do however chime with a study conducted by Stanford into flexible working.

The researchers wanted to test how productive flexible workers were in comparison to their office bound colleagues.  They recruited 255 volunteers from a pool of call centre staff.  Half of them were assigned to work from home, with all of the technology needed to do that provided for them, whilst the other half continued to work from the office as usual.

They then ran the experiment for a nine month period to ascertain whether home or office based working was best.  The results are fascinating.  The home workers achieved a number of significant wins.

  1. They were available to field calls for more minutes each day because they took fewer breaks
  2. They took fewer sick days over the 9 month period
  3. They fielded more calls per hour because their quiet home environment allowed them to solve customer queries more efficiently.
  4. They reported higher job satisfaction
  5. They were less likely to quit their job

Show me the money

All of which sounds great, but does that translate into cold, hard cash?  You betcha.  The researchers totted up the results from each participant and found that for each home worker, the following financial benefits were seen:

  • Higher performance was worth $375
  • Savings in office rental space was worth $1,250
  • Reductions in staff turnover and training of new staff was worth $400

So all told there were savings or benefits of over $2,000 over the 9 month period.  To put that into context, the average salary of each employee over the same period was $3,000.  Pretty impressive isn’t it?

What’s more, the researchers believed that over time, these savings would increase.  After the experiment was completed the employer allowed anyone that didn’t enjoy working from home to come back into the office, whilst any office bound employee that wanted to work from home was allowed to do so.  So a kind of natural selection took place.  The researchers found that the people that gave up on working from home were actually amongst the least productive, so once the natural filtering process had taken place the results could look even better.

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