There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding employees who works from home. Often, they're joked about as pajama-clad recluses, people who form a deep crease into their couch and spend more working hours goofing off than actually getting things done. But what if that perception is wrong?
In a study conducted by Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom and his graduate student James Liang, a group of call center employees made a solid case for a 9-to-5 that doesn't involve a commute. The study, which is detailed in a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that participants who worked from home saved the company thousands of dollars, performed their tasks more efficiently, and reported higher levels of satisfaction than other participants who were asked to stay at the office.
"Home working led to a 13 percent performance increase, of which about nine percent was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and four percent from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment)," the report said.
Bloom and Liang arrived at this conclusion thanks to the grad student's pretty successful side gig: Liang was the CEO of China's largest travel agency, CTrip, at the time (he's now executive chairman of the board), and he recruited about 250 volunteers from its Shanghai office to take part in the observation. The participants worked at the company for at least six months and had a separate room at home with reliable internet where they could work four days a week. The volunteers were randomly divided, and the ones who were picked to stay home were watched for nine months.
"Office and home workers used the same IT equipment, faced the same work order flow from a common central server, and were compensated under the same pay system, which included an element of individual performance pay," the report noted.
By the time the study was over, CTrip saved about $2000 on each employee's office space, and those employees felt more fulfilled at their jobs, despite not having co-workers to eat lunch with. Cool, right?
But before you ditch your traditional desk job for a more flexible workspace, there were some considerable drawbacks, too. The good news prompted the company to offer everyone the option to work remotely, but half of those who were already comfortable in their home routines decided to come back to the office instead.
The returns came from feelings of isolation and the correct assumption that employees had to show face to get perks like promotions and bonuses. And there was another thing, too: Employees felt like they didn't have work/life balance.
It is good to know that strides can be made in a company's to-do list when a portion of its workers are clocking in from home. Bloom does advocate that other like-minded companies give it a shot—slowly, and under certain conditions—because their bottom lines and their employees' overall happiness could definitely improve.
"After all, much of the research for this paper and its writing were done by the authors working from home," the study concludes.