In my old corporate job, upper-level management stressed the importance of work/life balance and flexible working arrangements. The idea of work/life balance stems from the idea that most corporate employees recognize that working in a cubicle is not all there is to life, and despite pressure from supervisors and bosses, family life is important, too. Ignoring unemployment, most households are two-income families, and in order for a family to survive, there must be some consideration for a family’s needs during the day. Often, the message of work/life balance doesn’t survive as it is passed down the ranks from the upper-level executives to the mid-level managers, whose job is to put business needs ahead of just about everything else.
That was the case in my old company when I was there. Upper management saw the benefit of allowing people to work from home occasionally. This flexibility increases productivity and morale, and there’s a new study that proves this assumption, as I’ll describe below. Nevertheless, some responsibilities in that environment could not be done from a location other than the office. That’s an understandable reason for limiting the availability of telecommuting options, but many managers do not trust either the studies or their employees.
I’ve had managers who believe that without a line of sight, employees would simply not work. They follow corporate guidelines and allow employees to occasionally work from home, but they’re grumpy about it, and those who do opt to take advantage of flexible working arrangements like telecommuting or alternate hours are viewed as less dedicated to the company and more likely to miss out on rewards like raises and bonuses regardless of performance.
Researchers at Stanford University developed a method of testing theories about working from home to determine, in a controlled environment rather than through anecdotal evidence or less-rigorous testing, whether telecommuting and other working arrangements such as flexible hours are beneficial to a company. The researchers, in a presentation labeled “very preliminary,” note that although work/life balance is used in recruiting, prior to the study there has been no evidence showing a cause and effect relationship between flexible policies and employees or employers. Most of what we “know” about work/life balance today relies on case studies (anecdotal evidence) and human resource surveys. This Stanford experiment set out to change that.
In this experiment, the researchers used a Chinese travel agency with 12,000 employees and a corporate culture modeled after American companies. The sample included call center workers, some who would be allowed to work four out of five shifts from home and others who were not. From a statistical perspective, those who worked from home were significantly more productive. Both quantitatively (number of calls) and qualitatively (judged by call quality assessments), working from home benefited the company. The quieter environment of the home increased concentration and the healthier environment resulted in fewer missed workdays.
From the employee’s perspective, they are more satisfied with their working experience at the company. The firm involved with the test has been so impressed with the results of the study that they are rolling out the plan to the rest of the company.
The next time you have the opportunity to discuss working from home with your manager, be sure to share the positive data.
Do you work from home? If so, are you more productive than you would be in an office?
Updated June 23, 2016 and originally published December 14, 2011.