When then-new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced in 2013 that the company would no longer allow employees to work from home, efficiency experts both applauded and criticized the move. Yahoo! said the policy would foster more creativity among employees and therefore help the company stand out among its competitors, such as Google. Skeptics pointed out that not all positions in the company were creative nor involved any in-person contact—begging the question if Work From Home (WFH) policies allow employees to shirk their responsibilities or if they encourage employees to be more productive.
Details of the study
Last month a group of Harvard University researchers released a study hoping to put this question to rest. Using Shanghai-based travel agency Ctrip, researchers tested a WFH policy the company was considering adopting in an effort to reduce overhead office costs and its annual employee turnover rate (50%).
Researchers gave half of the employees the option to work from home and the remaining half stayed in the office to act as a control group.
Over nine months, researchers observed all the employees—who worked the same shift period, under the same managers, using the same technology—from different locations. Ctrip’s software tracks productivity by keeping records of when employees are working, making sales and the quality of their customer interactions.
Some of the best “work from home” stock images online…I mean who wouldn’t want to work from home when it looks this easy.
Employees working from home worked 13% more minutes during each shift—mostly due to a reduction in breaks and sick days, researchers say. Moreover, the employees at home were more productive per minute, thanks to quieter working conditions. Employees also reported higher work satisfaction and employee turnover among the WFH group dropped by 50%. Meanwhile, the productivity in the control group did not change nor did employee turnover.
(Read more about this study and Harvard’s recommendations in my article for ThriveWire)
I’m a freelance journalist and I work from home–but that works for both my career and my working style. That is not true of every position nor every individual, so I believe in companies providing employees with flexible options (with the understanding that they will be required to choose whichever option promotes the most productivity). It also took me a while to develop discipline and tricks to reinforce the idea that working from home is still a job. I recommend:
-Working near a window or wherever you can get some natural light;
-Taking a daily walk midday (run errands, go to the park, etc.); and
-Not multi-tasking too much housework into the mix–allow 5-10 minute breaks to do laundry or sweep, but do not try to overlap much because your work will suffer.