Mind & Body

Working From Home Makes Employees More Productive

Having a job and having an office — or a cubicle, or a desk in an open-plan workspace — are widely thought to go hand in hand. Working from home is for loafers or Fifth Harmony. Or is it? As office space in major cities grows more expensive, working from home has started to look increasingly appealing to major companies. Luckily, it's good for more than their bottom line.

Related Video: 6 Productivity Hacks to Help You Get Things Done

Everybody's Workin' From the Kitchen

Take Ctrip, for example. It's a Chinese travel agency based in Shanghai, the most expensive city on the Chinese mainland. The company was paying exorbitant rates for its office space, and its team was growing; soon, it would need to upgrade to an even more expensive office — unless it got creative. So the CEO did just that. He teamed up with Stanford economists to conduct a nine-month work-from-home study on a group of 249 call-center employees.

Here's how it worked: Employees whose birthdays were on even-numbered days worked from home four days a week. Those whose birthdays fell on odd-numbered days still worked from the office. One day a week, the whole CTrip team was in the office together. Management then compared the productivity of the two groups, expecting that those who worked from home would slack off.

Instead, they found the opposite — the work-from-home crew's productivity actually increased by 13 percent. That might not sound like a huge increase until you realize it means they worked almost a full day more per week than their counterparts in the office. What's more, work-from-homers quit their jobs at half the rate of office workers, which meant CTrip managers could devote less time to employee recruitment and more to internal business.

Overall, during the study, CTRip increased profits by $2,000 per employee that worked from home. (Per! Employee!) The company was so impressed with the results of the experiment that they rolled out a work-from-home option across the whole company. Since then, they've seen an even bigger productivity spike.

Should We Abolish Offices?

This doesn't mean that the days of traditional offices are numbered. Working from home isn't for everyone. It makes some people feel isolated; others don't have a living space conducive to work; still others fall prey to, as study leader Nicholas Bloom put it, the three perils of working from home: the bed, the fridge, and the TV.

Working from home also isn't for every job. Some jobs require constant face-to-face interaction and can't be performed remotely. (Waiting tables, for instance, is hard to do online.) Some jobs also have fuzzier productivity metrics than a call center, which makes it harder for managers to oversee employees from afar.

However, there are definite perks to working from home, as this study reveals. One is that it cuts down on time (and car emissions!) expended on commuting. The average American commutes 26.1 minutes to and from the office, which adds up to 17.4 hours of commuting a month. Not to mention, once you arrive in an office, it's often a distracting environment, full of chit-chat and what Bloom calls "'cake in the break room' effect." (It's also full of other people's germs — at CTrip, the work-from-home contingent took substantially fewer sick days.) It's easier to concentrate and stay healthy at home.

Ultimately, working from home doesn't solve every problem with the modern workplace. But it can solve a lot of them! Ultimately, Bloom says, the finding here isn't that working from home should be mandatory — it's that giving employees a choice between working from home and from the office, at least a day or two a week, can have huge benefits.

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There are more benefits and challenges to the work-from-home model that you can learn in "Remote: Office Not Required" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of Basecamp. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice December 28, 2018

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