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Working From Home Can Benefit You and Your Company

This article was written by in Career and Work. 26 comments.


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.

Home office deskI’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?

Photo: C G-K
Stanford University [pdf]

Published or updated December 13, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Juggler314

I am not a freelancer, but I work 100% from home (for about 3.5 years now). Before that I worked in an office for another couple of years where I was the only employee (that was a bit weirder, but it made for one huge closet to have an extra 1000 sq feet of space in NYC:). I am not sure if I am more or less productive – I don’t exactly have a normal job. When things need to get done – they get done wherever I am (office, home, vacation – i’m more a 24×7 tech worker type). I will say it’s worth quite a few dollars in income to have the flexibility – i wouldn’t switch jobs for anywhere near the same pay I get here; I would need a substantial raise (think 50% or more). Being able to shop during the day, go to the doctor, run errands, sleep in late if I go out the night before, schedule vacations (granted I still need to be reachable) and whatever else on top of just generally setting my own work hours is priceless. On the down side I really am on call basically 24x7x365 and it’s a small company so job stability is always a question and similarly pay raises are few and far between. I often tell people my job has pros and cons like any other job – but they are way further out on the extreme ends than most pros and cons are.

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avatar Juggler314

note: I do have a home office

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avatar Emily Hunter

I am a freelancer,, and have been working from home for the past year and a half. I’ve found that the tradeoffs that one makes for the lack of money are definitely worth it. I find that I’m working ALL the time, either marketing or working for clients, or trying to prime my brain with good stuff before going back to the work that’s waiting. So yes, I’m significantly more productive, but it’s spread out over the course of the day. I don’t think those stuck to a schedule at a 9-5 actually WORK more than 3 or 4 hours, anyway.

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avatar Penny

I would only be able to work from home if I had a home office. Otherwise I get too distracted and end up in weekend mode.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I have worked partly from home. One issue is that people think that they can stop by at any time and that you will drop everything and visit with them. I got to the point where I would say, come on into my workroom, and I would continue working. Some of the time people don’t consider you to be working if you are at home.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

I work in a call center where Home Based agents have been around for a few years in one department and now they’ve started a pilot in my department. Now they based it on tenure and distance traveled to work. Needless to say, one of my co-workers who has been with the company for about as long as I’ve been alive and lives over an hour away with good weather got to be on the pilot program. She loved that our company tried to flex her schedule around her family life and then when she was able to work from home, she only has to come into our location once a month for meetings and reviewing her calls. For the winter, I’d love to be able to work from home but I’d miss the social aspect of work as well.

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avatar Jonathan

My company generally expects us to be in the office, but it’s never been an issue when someone decides to work from home for a day, or for a morning, or leave early and work the rest of the afternoon from home. With remote desktop, working from home is essentially the same as sitting in the office, minus the ready access to coworkers. In my personal experience, I tend to work just as effectively at home as at the office, on average. I’ve found that if I’m not motivated to do my work at the office, I’m usually not any more motivated to do it at home, and vice versa. So I do take advantage of coming home early and working from home once in a while, and I love the flexibility.

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avatar Denver

Intelligence and simplicity – easy to unedsartnd how you think.

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avatar Juggler314

I think the bigger problem is how employees are viewed as assets. There are two ways to view this: 1) something to be squeezed into as high a yield as theoretically possible 2) something to be assigned tasks and have them done in a timely manner.

If your job is nothing more than doing things as fast as possible, your company is never going to want you to work from home. If instead your job has goals…and your job is to meet those goals…then you are a good worker whether you do those things in 5 hours/week or 40, or 60 for that matter.

Most work that isn’t service/assembly line should be of the second type, but corporate america being what it is…people get squeezed.

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avatar wayne

I work for large company and work out of home. Most of folks I deal with are all remote as well. I do have an office in the building which I frequent a couple of time a month. I find myself more productive at home. Am more focus with no distractions. Time flies when working at home unlike being in office. Weird but true. I do like flexibility of it. Able to run errands and activities for kids. The company provides laptop which I connect to their network and VOIP for me. Can be contacted via instant messages or by dialing my office number which connects to me at home.

The only time I go into office is really for admin stuff like submitting expenses or printing docs

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avatar krantcents

As a teacher, I do not have a choice! When I do work from home, I find there is less distraction and I am more productive.

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avatar Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

I try to work from home often. Not only am I more productive doing my actual work, I’m also more productive around my house, laundry gets done quicker, the dishes are washed, etc.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I do not work from home although I would love to be able to. I know that there are some tasks that I could do if I had access to our system. But telecommuting is not something that is even considered in my job. Although, you may take your work home and work a few more hours at home after a ten hour day you may not work the ten hour day at home. Maybe, I can change their mind.

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avatar Kris @ Everyday Tips

I haven’t worked in an office since 1997, and even then I was at home two days of the week. I do think that working from home does take a lot of discipline, but it has worked out wonderfully for me. (I told my company that my employment was contingent on being able to work from home.) However, you have to be a good employee to be able to get the company to consider letting you work from home.

I think I am equally as productive at work as at home. I prefer to go in to the office for larger meetings and where there may be drawing on a white board or something.

The biggest downside for me working at home is stopping at the end of the day. Sometimes I find myself checking email in the evening and getting involved in things that could wait until the next day.

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avatar jim

Personally I prefer to work at work in general. I don’t have a comfortable office at home and I tend to get restless and distracted more easily at home. I tend to get restless if I’m at home too long so it helps me to get out and go to work instead of staying at home all day and night. I also prefer to be able to interact with people at work rather than sitting alone at home. I do occasionally WFH (1-4 days a month maybe) for various reasons like if my wife needs me at home to do something or whatever.

My company does allow official 100% work from home arrangements. They have some rules to follow and the job has to fit but they allow individuals to be approved case by case. A couple people in my team work from home offices all the time or nearly all the time and it seems to work fine for them.

One other thing to think about is whether or not you’re the “odd man out”. If your whole team works from work and you work from home then you could end up isolated and cut off. This happened to one of my coworkers a few years ago. He routinely worked from home. He was a very dedicated hard worker but since everyone else was on site and he wasn’t people didn’t SEE him and got the “he’s never here” attitude about him. I think it ended up hurting his standing.

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avatar Steve Dupree

It depends a lot on what the output of the job is, and how productivity is measured. In the job in the study, it was a sort of “piecework”, where each individual unit of work is discrete, done by a single individual, and easily measured. In a different job, such as a software developer, perhaps the visible output is measured in lines of code, or time spent in the code writing tools, or features completed, or whatnot – but true output is difficult to measure, nevermind quality. Furthermore there is the “unproductive” time such as meetings and hallway interactions that contributes towards the productive time in ways that impossible to measure.

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avatar Steve Dupree

Personally, I prefer to work from work, because I have a better setup (faster computer with more monitors). But perhaps my biggest deterrent is that I have a mediocre broadband connection due to the location of my house vs. the internet tubes; so working from home can be painfully slow. If I had a fast computer, at least two monitors, and better internet, I would definitely prefer working from home at least some of the time.

Also I don’t mean to imply that all meetings are worthwhile. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the biggest contributors to the increased productivity was all the meetings the WFH group didn’t have to attend!

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avatar Marlene

My job allows me to work from home and the only thing that required me to get dressed up to begin with was attending insurance classes to obtain my life insurance license. I think sales jobs like mine are great for people who want to work from home using the internet and phone to do their job well. Long gone are the days of sitting in an office cubicle for 8 hours a day.

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avatar shaun @ Smart Family Finance

I think sooner or later corporate America is going to need to accept the alternate work envirnoments and schedules. With commuting and child care constantly increasing in costs, employers are going to either need to raise wages or look for unconventional solutions.

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avatar Donna

With the advances of technology and the internet, I believe alot more companies are going to allow their employees to work from home. That way their overhead cost and operating cost will decrease, and possibly large corporations can restructure their businesses to be extremely cost effective. And I agree that commuting from home to work on a daily basis is getting too expensive for people to keep their jobs and earn the same wage/salary. Something has to give somewhere in the equation.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I worked at home on two different occasions. The first was for a large company and I did it for a year after my first child was born. I wouldn’t recommend it because my new mom duties distracted me from being able to do my job when I needed to work. The second time was as a freelancer, for about a year and a half, and I loved the freedom to plan each day, but didn’t like always having my work at home. I never felt like I was “off the clock”, so to speak. I also missed the camaraderie of having co-workers. So I went back to the office.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

I work for a pharmacy health care company and my group supports the customer care side of the business on a 24/7 basis. When i’m oncall, i’ll work from home and when I open in the morning at either 4 or 5AM I usually work at home. I like it but when we have VPN issues it’s a pain.

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avatar Geoff

Hey Flexo, I’ve worked from home on and off for years, and yes, I’m much more productive in my home office. I tend to be more focused and put in more hours because I have no commute and can pop in for a few minutes here and there. Also, because I’m involved in a lot of business strategy work, I find it a lot easier to have private conversations without worrying about anyone overhearing me.

That said, it definitely takes a certain type of person to work from home and it’s not for everyone. I’ve had to let go of a few people that worked for me that would have done very well in an office environment. Some people are just not suited to stay motivated and productive when no one else is around.

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avatar David C

Flexo… I think you should have also mentioned that
1) When the pilot ended and the work from home program was rolled out through out the company only half of the workers choose to take the offer to work from home
2) “many” (unspecified number) number of workers in the pilot eventually chose to go back to the office once the pilot was over

In another words working from home is not for everyone/every job… which also reflects the comments above. Full disclosure: I worked from home this morning… but that was only because it was a Saturday.

More info: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2011/11/is_working_from_home_a_good_idea_.html and of course http://www.stanford.edu/%7Enbloom/WFH.pdf

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,490 (Platinum)

That’s a good point, David. Working from home isn’t for everyone. It seems to be a good option if you have space for an office-type setup and a quiet environment. Those are luxuries not everyone can have at home. In addition, some jobs don’t lend themselves well — if at all — to working outside of the office.

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avatar andrea1983 ♦226 (Cent)

I don’t work from home, but occasionally will need to work remotely. It can be easy to get distracted, a work day is a work day and I try not to let household errands or cleaning, or other distractions, get me off track.

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