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Telecommuting is one of millennials’ and techies’ favorite job perks, but it’s been traditionally viewed as a way to dodge workplace responsibilities in order to lounge around at home (paging Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer). A new study, however, finds that people who work from home may actually be more productive than those who are forced to stay office-bound.
According to a study from Stanford Graduate School of Business professors Nicholas Bloom and John Roberts, working from home can benefit both remote-workers and their companies.
Using Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, as the base for their study, Bloom and Roberts ran a nine-month experiment where about half of the 255 eligible employees from the firm’s Shanghai headquarters’ call center were chosen to work from home. Over a period of nine months, those employees worked from home in the same shift hours, in the same groups, under the same managers, had the same work-order flow and even the same work equipment as they had had before in the office.
After meticulously tracking the workers’ productivity over the same period, the researchers found only positive results.
Bloom and Roberts writes in the Harvard Business Review:
“First, the performance of the home-workers went up dramatically, increasing by 13% over the course of the nine months. This increase in output came mainly from a rise in the number of minutes they worked during each shift, which was due to a reduction in the number of breaks and sick days that they took. The home-workers were also more productive per minute, which employees told us (in detailed surveys) was due to the quieter working conditions at home.
“Second, there was no change in the performance of the control group (and there were no negative effects seen from staying in the office). Third, the rate of staff turnover fell sharply for the home-workers, dropping by almost 50% compared to the control group. The home-workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and less ‘work exhaustion’ in a psychological attitudes survey.”
The results were so positive, in fact, that Ctrip’s management team decided to offer the work-at-home policy to all of its employees.
Shockingly, however, about half of the home workers decided to go back to the office and about three-quarters of the office workers decided to stay at the office. The reason? Loneliness at home, according to many of those who declined.
Based on their findings, Bloom and Roberts’ advise companies to “at the very least … be open to employees working from home occasionally, to allow them to focus on individual projects and tasks.”
Bloom and Roberts write:
“We think working from home can be a positive experience both for the company and its employees, as our research with Ctrip showed. More firms ought to try it. And our advice to Yahoo is to give working from home a second chance — it is critical for retaining and motivating your key employees, and is an essential part of the 21st century office.”