It’s now been about six weeks since all Yahoo! employees had to start showing up at the Internet giant’s offices every day. The company-confidential but widely circulated memo that banned telecommuting stressed the importance of physical proximity for preserving the creative culture that new CEO Marissa Mayer had been trying to build. Many commentators criticized Mayer for limiting her employees’ autonomy and signaling that she didn’t trust them. Whatever the intention — and ultimate effects — of Mayer’s new rule, it sparked fiery debates about the merits and drawbacks of the upward trend in working from home. New data that we recently collected add fuel to the flames.
For several weeks earlier this year, we collected daily electronic diaries from the employees of the HR department in a New York bank. Although we weren’t looking for it, one particularly interesting pattern popped out of the data: strongly positive comments from employees on the occasional days that they worked from home. Again and again, we saw people writing about how refreshing it was to be freed from office distractions and to have the opportunity to catch up on work. On our end-of-study survey, we asked directly how they felt about working from home. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Of particular interest to us, participants felt that they made more progress when they worked from home. The reasons they cited included increased focus, greater creativity, saved time that would otherwise have been spent commuting, and feeling relaxed and comfortable. During the study, we also collected daily self-report ratings from each person on several emotion measures. Ratings for most of these items were the same for days at the office and days at home, except for frustration. Our participants consistently rated their frustration with the work lower when they worked from home.
Our past research found that, of all the events that can keep people happily engaged on the job, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. So, if working remotely leads people to feel more positive and make more progress, that’s a pretty powerful endorsement. Other research fits with our findings. It seems that, in general, people like working from home. They appreciate the ability to schedule their lives around their work rather than the other way around – and some may even value this flexibility more than career advancement. Moreover, being alone helps some people avoid the frustrations and annoyances of office life. A study by Stanford researchers revealed significant differences between call center employees in a Chinese company who were randomly assigned to work from home for nine months and those who were not. Not only were the work-from-homers more productive than their non-remote peers, but they were also more satisfied with their job and less likely to leave. Brand new research similarly points to the importance of flexible work arrangements for attracting and retaining the most talented employees. In a survey of over 700 MBA grads, Catalyst discovered that those whose firms had flexible work arrangements were more likely to aspire to senior positions at their companies than those working at less flexible firms.
Of course, there’s a catch. The participants in our study, like those in the Chinese call center study, were doing work of an inherently independent nature, and much of it was rather repetitive; there was little need for collaboration and little room for creativity.
Forcing employees into the office could be very important if the success of your company is largely dependent on the frequent exchange of novel ideas between workers. A recent
Gallup report showed that remote workers were more engaged than on-site workers, but emphasized that working remotely was best in moderation. Only the remote workers who spent less than 20% of their time working from home were more engaged; remote workers who spent almost all of their time working from home had the same level of engagement as on-site workers. Keep in mind that the people we studied in that New York bank worked from home only occasionally; for the vast majority, it was fewer than eight days spread out over eight weeks. Also keep in mind that working at home can have its own distractions. In one survey by Citrix (a Florida company that designs technology for employees to work remotely), a quarter of employees even admitted to having an alcoholic beverage while working from home.
The bottom line is that working at home makes a lot of sense for some people and some kinds of work. Although our research and other studies suggest that employees and employers alike can benefit from telecommuting, Marissa Mayer’s report-to-work order may still prove appropriate for Yahoo’s employees because of the creative, collaborative nature of the work they do.
Reblogged from: here