Bring up the subject of working from home and you might get some very passionate (and angry) responses. But just how effective is working from home?
A study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics has found that people who work form home get a lot more done. Researchers ran an experiment with the help of Ctrip, which is China’s largest travel agency. They wanted to test a work from home policy owing to high office costs (they’re based in Shanghai) and their very high staff turnover rate (50%). Ctrip offered all employees in their hotel division with six months of experience the change to work form home four days a week. Of the 508 eligible, 255 volunteered to work from home. Half were allowed to do so, and the other half remained in office to act as the control group.
Nothing else about work conditions changed: both the home and office based employees kept their supervisors, computer systems, equipment, and workflow. Helpfully, Ctrip keeps detailed digital records of everything their employees do, in addition to sales data.
The main result was that the performance of people working at home went up by 13% over the course of the nine-month experiment. The at-home workers ended up working more minutes per shift, mainly because of a reduction in breaks and sick days. They also were more productive—a detailed survey at the end of the experiment suggests that the quieter working conditions at home were helpful.
The employees working from home also had higher job satisfaction, as evidence by the fact that their turnover fell sharply (by 50% compared to the control).
The control group saw no changes in performance, time spent working, or job satisfaction.
Ctrip’s executives were happy with the results of the experiment, and they ended up extending the policy to the whole company. They also offered the experiment participants the chance to choose their own work arrangements. Somewhat surprisingly, half of the work from home group decided to return to the office, and three quarters of the control group elected to stay in-office as well. The main reason given was that working from home can be lonely.
Obviously, not all companies have the advantages Ctrip does in measuring employee productivity, but the data suggests that companies should be open to employees working from home—although, so may very well return to the office.