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Working at Home by the Percentages

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Employee productivity is always a hot topic. A new study covers the impact that working from home has on employee productivity—and it might surprise you.

The analysis was covered in an article from Slate:

The company chose to run the experiment at its airfare and ticketing office in Shanghai, where more than a thousand employees spent an average of 80 minutes—and nearly 10 percent of their salaries—commuting to endless rows of identical gray cubicles in two hangar-sized call centers. All employees who had their own room at home and at least six months’ experience with the company were given the option of enrolling in the study, which gave them a 50 percent shot at working from the house for four of their five weekly shifts over an eight-month span starting near the end of 2010. The study enrollees who didn’t get to stay at home would serve as a control group to ensure that any changes in the productivity of the telecommuters could be attributed to their new arrangement, rather than other random changes to the company’s environment. Two-hundred-fifty-five employees—a little more than one-half of those who were eligible—chose to participate; those with even-numbered birthdays were given home-office setups courtesy of the company, while those with odd-numbered birthdays stayed on with their daily commutes.

Within a few weeks, the performance of the telecommuting group started to pull away from their cubicle-bound counterparts. Over the duration of the experiment, home workers answered 15 percent more calls, partly because each hour was 4 percent more productive, and partly because home office employees spent 11 percent more time answering phone calls.

Employees themselves liked the arrangement better, making it look like a win-win for the company. The home-work group reported less “work exhaustion,” a more positive attitude towards their jobs, and were nearly 50 percent less likely to say they were planning to quit at the end of the eight months. (In fact the quit rate among home-office workers during the experiment was about one-half of what it was for those making the commute.)

productivity growth working at home

© Flickr user Mukumbura

If you’re a worker who is currently chained to their desk, you’re likely to find yourself agreeing with this data. After all, employee productivity is tied to satisfaction. It’s really no surprise that people who are self-motivated enjoy the freedom and opportunity to work wherever and/or whenever they want.

If you’ve been reading our blog for a long time, you know we’ve talked about the benefits of telecommuting and worker productivity for ages. But what’s interesting about this study is not just the evidence that supports working from home, but the emphasis on understanding which tasks are best suited for which work environments. The article continues:

Not every task is particularly well-suited to the home office. A Results-Only Work Environment only makes sense for the subset of relatively solitary tasks where results can easily be tracked and measured—like answering customer calls at a Chinese travel agency—and those where stuff can get done with relatively little face-to-face interaction.

Yet for the right job—one that can be done in fits and starts, and the results easily monitored and evaluated from afar—the advent of mobile computing does have the power to transform the workplace.

Even companies that support work-from-home situations may be missing the point. It’s not just about who is “allowed” to be a teleworker, but who makes the decisions about work. Until individual employees are empowered to make their own choices, a home office can be just as stifling as a cubicle.

Interested in making a change at your organization? Contact the business consulting team at AccelaWork. We’d love to help you discover ways to work smarter and help you increase employee productivity and satisfaction—wherever those employees work.

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