It’s April 2020, and a great many people are working from home. Not because the idea of working remote suddenly reached a critical tipping point when the world collectively realised its benefits, but because it has been forced upon us by the most dire situation to hit the world since World War II, namely, the coronavirus pandemic.study
In a bid to “flatten the curve” and prevent the spread of the virus, countries are in lockdown, and now everyone who can, is working from home.
The situation has brought the notion of working remotely into sharp focus, with internet articles springing up every day with tips on how to do it better, how to maintain focus at home, and how to balance having your entire family around you with getting work done, and more.
Importantly, the situation has highlighted that working from home can be more productive for some workers than working in an office. It’s showing how many meetings could genuinely be emails, and that just because someone is not sitting in an office, doesn’t mean their work isn’t being done.
There is talk of how this is going to shape company policy when the lockdown is over, since it is working so well right now.
You might be wondering, then, why working from home (WFH) was the exception and not the norm before the lockdown.
To be blunt, that was because management did not fully buy into the idea. Managers don’t trust people to actually do their jobs when not under direct scrutiny, and in fact tend to think remote workers spend more time lounging in front of the TV in their underwear than actually working.
Big companies like IBM, Reddit, Yahoo!, and others have also reversed work from home policies in recent years, citing benefits like good things coming from hallway and cafeteria discussions, always having other people around to bounce ideas off, and even spontaneous team meetings as reasons to bring everyone back in under one roof.
Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! said specifically that “We often sacrifice speed and quality when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
Is the stigma justified?
It’s safe to say, then, that even within the tech industry, working from home still has a major stigma around it.
But is it truly justified? Do people who work from home under-deliver? Do they really goof off and avoid work when they’re not under their bosses’ noses? And is the office environment really all that amazing for productivity?
You might be surprised to hear that the answer is, in fact, “No”. If anything, people who work remotely work harder than their office-bound counterparts, partly because they spend longer at their desks getting things done since they don’t commute, and partly because there are fewer distractions at home compared to noisy offices full of other people, ringing telephones, and constant meetings.
There is now solid data to support this, since it is exactly what a two-year research study by Stanford University in the USA concluded.
Stanford researchers worked closely with CTrip, a Chinese travel company that employs over 16,000 people, to see what would happen when a large-scale nine-month work-from-home experiment was conducted.
Employees were randomly selected to work from home, and the results were documented by the researchers. The outcomes were fascinating.
The company saw a 13% performance increase, with 9% coming from employees working more minutes per shift, as they were taking fewer breaks and sick days, and weren’t delayed getting into the office by unexpected commute conditions, or leaving early to take care of personal business.
The other 4% came from taking more calls per minute, which the researchers attributed to the quieter working environment.
Those working from home reported better work satisfaction as well, and overall, the staff turnover rate dropped. The only downside of this was that workers’ promotion rate that was conditional on their performance, fell. The lower turnover rate likely had something to do with this.
CTrip ended up saving an average of $2,000 per employee over the course of the experiment, and as it was a huge success, they rolled the WFH policy out across the entire company.
Interestingly, when given the option of working from home or from the office, over half of CTrip’s people who were working from home opted to work from the office. This resulted in the gains seen from the WFH experiment rising to a massive 22%.
The researchers concluded that this highlighted the importance of choice: when employees are given flexibility in their working conditions, it has a very positive impact on their quality of life, and their productivity increases.
The study concluded that choice is therefore a major component of any successful implementation of modern work practices like working from home.
The proof is in the pudding
So there you have it. Implementing a successful working from home policy is not only possible, but it has tangible business benefits too.
Paying less for overheads, more satisfied employees, a rise in productivity, and less staff turnover, are all likely outcomes of letting employees work from home. If not all the time, then at least some of the time, as that choice and flexibility is clearly the key to unlocking the biggest benefits, says the study.
And with so many amazing remote-work tools available, businesses are fully supported in conducting their own work from home experiments.
For example, Microsoft’s excellent Teams collaboration software offers video conferencing, instant messaging, task tracking and so much more to help get your employees all on the same page, no matter where they are.
Just the beginning
And that’s just the start. If you’re interested in getting set up with Teams, or you just want to talk WFH strategy with us, please do get in touch.
Use the form below to leave your details, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.