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Working from home: More evidence it, um, works

Working from home

Working from home should probably be normative.

There’s some evidence that remote work is on the rise, which would make sense — most employees covet flexibility almost more than salary.

Correspondingly, there’s evidence that remote work is being squashed. The number of people working from home has tripled in the 30-year period between 1980 and 2010, but it’s still only about 4 million Americans — and about 125 million Americans work. (Somewhere around 4-5% then.) IBM, a remote-work pioneer, pulled its own program back this spring.

What’s the whole landscape here around working from home?

Working from home: The common objection on the managerial side

This should be obvious to most. It’s typically:

  • “How will I know what they’re doing?”
  • “They’re probably slacking off!”

The great irony of these statements, of course, is that most managers barely check in with their employees on-site … so do they really know what they’re doing 15 feet away in a cubicle? No. But they can see them. Work is often such a farce.

Some evidence that working from home works

There’s some more research in those two links at the top of this post, so go there if you need more fodder.

For now, there’s this from TED. It’s based on research from Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, who once gave the TED Talk “Go Ahead, Tell Your Boss You’re Working From Home:”

He partnered with a Singapore company, which makes sense — working from home is on the rise in cities. Urban office space is expensive (and residential), so when companies have downtown offices, their employees can get forced out of living near work. This creates long commutes and causes turnover.

Here are Bloom’s results in full, and here’s your money shot:

“It was unbelievable. Ctrip saved $1,900 per employee over the course of the study on office space, and we knew this would happen,” Bloom says. “But to our amazement, the work-from-home employees were far from goofing off — they increased productivity by 13.5 percent over those working in the office. That’s like getting an extra day’s work from each employee.” The people working from home also reported shorter breaks and fewer sick days and took less time off.

Bam.

Indeed.

Look, this isn’t rocket science.

I work from home. Let me quickly elucidate the pros and cons:

Pros

  • I control my own time
  • If I wanted to go see a movie at 2pm, I probably could
  • I don’t get called into ridiculous meetings simply because I am sitting near you
  • If I want to be productive at 6am, cool … or at 6pm. I’m not limited by a clock.

Cons

  • It can get lonely. (Hence the rise of co-working spaces.)

That’s a 4-to-1 ratio of pros to cons by my count.

Now look, I’m freelance and that’s different. Sometimes I struggle financially, you know? It’s up and down. (Hey, hire me for something.) So that’s technically in the “con” category, but that’s on me. If I was working for a company and had a set salary but working from home? Golden. (If you know of those opportunities, let me know, yea?).

I could make a list of 128 reasons working from home makes sense — saves the company money, allows people to live where they want, more productivity, etc. — but there’s a simple psychological fact we need to overcome. Until managers understand that productivity is possible without a sight line, working from home will never catch on at scale. A shame, but the absolute truth.

Oh, and as for the “We need more collaboration” argument? Read this.

What’s your overall take on working from home?

Ted Bauer

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