Make employees office-bound? Stanford prof says adopt telecommuting

August 7, 20142:18 pm1117 views

Research from a nine-month case study in China shows that remote working and telecommuting retains staff, boost productivity and improves job satisfaction.

Highlighted in Harvard Business Review and Inc, a recent study that went on for nine months discovered that workers who were allowed telecommuting or mobile working arrangements enjoy greater productivity, improved job satisfaction and were less likely to leave the firm.  The question of whether or not telecommuting is good for business is a recurrent one.

Answers tend to diverge wildly, depending on whom you ask, the metrics used to gauge success and the management paradigm of the organisation. Certainly, hallway conversations and impromptu team meetings can aid in spurring innovation activities and the growth of an innovative culture. However, open offices can also be highly disruptive of workflow.

But a research study conducted by researchers at Stanford University found that letting employees work from home made them happier, less likely to quit and more productive. An economics professor, Nicholas Bloom, worked with graduate student James Liang. They offered call-centre workers from Ctrip, Liang’s travel website, Ctrip, the chance to work from home, via telecomutting, for nine months.

Outcomes

While Liang thought that Ctrip would enjoy cost savings in terms of office space and furniture – about US $1900 per employee for the duration of the research – he also thought this would be offset by losses in productivity. To his surprise, home worker output wasn’t hampered a bit, according to Bloom Contrary to initial assumptions, those working from home made 13.5 percent more calls, quit 50 percent less, and said they were much happier on the job, compared to office counterparts.

See: Workplace flexibility? Excellent business choice

Bloom and Liang explained that at least a third of the productivity increase was due to having a quieter environment. This helped workers to process calls, without many of the distractions and disruptions of the office. In home environments, staff don’t experience sudden interruptions from managers, supervisors and colleagues. Bloom added that “Offices are actually incredibly distracting places”.

Additionally, they also found study participants working from home invested more hours and took fewer sick days. This was due to not having to commute, as well as the ability to start earlier in the day. In many ways, this parallels the findings and outcomes of a telecommuting program implemented by CISCO in 2009.

Caveats

Despite this resoundingly positive outcomes, as well as the extensive support across the fields of human resource, economics and organisational psychology research, this doesn’t imply that remote work always trumps office work, at least in terms of productivity. It suggests that certain kinds of work (and workers) might be better adapted for teleworking (e.g. solitary, hourly staff whose output can be measured), such as call-centre representatives, proofreaders, developers, writers and the like.

Bloom explained that “The more robotic the work, the greater the benefits, we think. More research needs to be done on creative work and teamwork, but the evidence still suggests that with most jobs, a good rule of thumb is to let employees have one to two days a week at home. It’s hugely beneficial to their well-being, helps you attract talent, and lowers attrition.”

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