There’s been a growing conversation in the news lately regarding the pros and cons faced by businesses when they allow employees to work from home. The controversy, erupting after news broke that Yahoo has eliminated telecommuting as an option for its employees, has sparked a larger debate over the validity of their claim that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
In response, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson tweeted: “Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.” WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg also weighed in on the subject from the South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX, saying that giving people the opportunity to telecommute is “a fantastic way to build a culture of trust and empowerment and freedom, and that will attract the best people in the world, which is what we’ve been lucky enough to do.”
Although this issue isn’t limited to parents of young children, parenting and “mommy” blogs have been lively with many working mothers railing against what they see as an attack on flexible work arrangements that are valuable and necessary in today’s workplace. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, herself a new mother, has come under fire as being out of touch with the needs of working parents, particularly with today’s technology.
According to AllThingsD.com, the Yahoo decree isn’t simply limited to those who currently work from home full time; it also applies to those who have arrangements to telecommute one or two days a week. After June, all of these employees will have to come to the office every day or find new employment.
So, all of this discussion begs the question, “Is working from home a help or a hindrance to the workplace?” The answer, according to a recent Stanford study, is pretty clear: there can be definite benefits for both employer and employee. The study followed 5oo call-center employees in China, half of whom were charged with working from home while the other half worked from an office for nine months. The results were a 13% performance increase, due to more minutes worked per shift – with fewer breaks and sick days – and more calls per minute, which they attributed to a quieter work environment. Those who worked from home also reported enhanced satisfaction with work and less employee turnover.
According to Marketplace.org, Stanford economist Nick Bloom, who conducted this study, gives good reason for the increase in productivity from home. “In the office it’s very noisy, you can hear the guy next to you on the phone or the person across the desk crying because their boyfriend just split up with them. It’s very distracting,” said Bloom.
On top of that, a Washington University study shows that long commuting time can be a detriment to your health, contributing to an increase in weight and blood pressure and decreasing commuters’ fitness levels.
With all of this research pointing to the benefits of working from home, both for employee and employer, you’d think that it’s a clear-cut no brainer. However, a working moms forum on About.com explores the disadvantages to telecommuting. They list problems such as loneliness and separation from coworkers – making it difficult to build relationships with those around the office – interruption from friends, family and neighbors who may take for granted your availability just because you happen to be home, and the difficult process of handling childcare when you’re home but on the clock. There must be set boundaries drawn when you make the decision to work from home, allowing you the time, space and quiet you need to be efficient. Also, there are some jobs that, by the very nature of the work, can’t be performed away from the office.
These recent shifts in the modern workplace show that the jury is still out on whether telecommuting will become more prevalent as employers compete to bring in quality employees, or be seen as a hindrance to productivity.
Do you have any experiences that contribute to this conversation? Have you found that working from home has helped you become more productive? Or do you feel that it’s imperative that all employees work out of the office? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!