The question of whether or not telecommuting is good for business is a recurrent one with the answer diverging widely, depending on whom you ask. Certainly, hallway conversations and impromptu team meetings can spur innovation. At the same time, open offices can be remarkably distracting.
But a recent study conducted by a couple of Stanford researchers found letting employees work from home made them happier, less likely to quit, and more productive.
Economics professor Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang offered call-center workers of Liang's travel website, Ctrip, the opportunity to work from home for nine months.
While Ctrip originally thought the money it would save in space and furniture--about $1,900 per employee for the length of the study--would offset a drop in productivity, at-home worker output wasn't hampered a bit, Bloom reported in a story for Harvard Business Review. In fact, compared with office counterparts, those working from home made 13.5 percent more calls, quit 50 percent less, and said they were much happier on the job.
"One-third of the productivity increase, we think, was due to having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls," Bloom says. "At home, people don't experience what we call the 'cake in the break room' effect. Offices are actually incredibly distracting places."
Bloom and Liang found study participants who worked from home also put in more hours and took fewer sick days, thanks to not having to commute as well as the ability to start earlier in the day.
Even so, the researchers aren't making broad pronouncements that remote work always trumps office work in terms of productivity, but rather suggest certain kinds of workers might be better suited for it, such as solitary, hourly folks whose output can be measured--call-center reps, proofreaders, developers, and the like.
"The more robotic the work, the greater the benefits, we think," Bloom says. "More research needs to be done on creative work and teamwork, but the evidence still suggests that with most jobs, a good rule of thumb is to let employees have one to two days a week at home. It's hugely beneficial to their well-being, helps you attract talent, and lowers attrition."