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Friday, September 14, 2012

Interesting research findings about remote work and WFH

3:04:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , 1 comment
Lately I have come across some interesting research about remote working and working from home (WFH). The findings point to that remote work and WFH lead to increased productivity and more engaged employees, especially when employees are given the choice to work from the work environment that suits them best.

First there’s the Stanford study “Does working from home work& Evidence from a Chinese experiment” (PDF) by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying. Their main finding is that that people who work from home are more productive than those who work from the office:
“Over 10% of US employees now regularly work from home (WFH), but there is widespread skepticism over its impact highlighted by phrases like “shirking from home”. We report the results of a WFH experiment in a 13,000 employee NASDAQ listed Chinese multinational. Call center employees who volunteered to WFH were randomized into home or office working for 9 months. Home-working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9.5% is from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 3.5% from more calls per minute (quieter working environment). Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and their job attribution rate fell by 50%. After the experiment, the firm rolled the program out to all employees, letting them choose home or office working. Interestingly, only half of the volunteer group decided to work from home, with the other half changing their minds in favor of office working. After allowing employees to choose, the performance impact of WFH more than doubled, highlighting the benefits of choice alongside modern practices like home working.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Christopher Shea comments on research presented in a forthcoming Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization article by E. Glenn Dutcher called "The Effects of Telecommuting on Productivity":
“Just how hard do telecommuters work? It depends on the assignment: Employees get more boring work done in the office and more creative work at home.

Researchers assigned two tasks to 125 participants. The first was rote and repetitive; the other involved coming up with as many unusual uses for ordinary objects as possible, a test often used by psychologists to measure creativity. About half the participants did the tasks in a supervised lab, the other half remotely.

On the uncreative tasks, people were 6% to 10% less productive outside the lab. The fall-off was steepest among the least productive third of workers. (People who reported procrastinating on their homework were also, unsurprisingly, poor telecommuters—as were men.) On the creative tasks, by contrast, people were 11% to 20% more productive outside the lab.

Employers like Google, which tries to achieve an informal work environment, recognize that a lack of structure often abets creativity.”
In the Harward Business Review blog post called “Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged”, Scott Edinger writes:
"Who is more engaged and more committed to their work and rates their leaders the highest?

A. People who work in the office
B. People who work remotely

If you picked A, you might be as surprised as the investment firm I worked with recently, which found in reviewing results of a 360-degree feedback process that the answer was, in fact, B.

The team members who were not in the same location with their leaders were more engaged and committed — and rated the same leader higher — than team members sitting right nearby. While the differences were not enormous (a couple of tenths of a point in both categories), they were enough to provoke some interesting speculations as to why this might be happening."
Scott then presents three main reasons why he believes this is so:
  • Proximity breeds complacency
  • Absence makes people try harder to connect
  • Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time their teams spend together.

Ryan Faas comments on Scott Edinger’s findings in his CiteWorld article “Understanding why remote workers are more engaged can help your entire staff”. He makes two important points:
  • all of the practices that make remote workers more engaged can be incorporated for in-office staff as well
  • technology and remote working options can help engage all employees, but it requires effort and initiative to make such plans a success
Scott also provides some concrete suggestions on how to improve practices:
  • Use multiple communication options. Skype might be absurd for people in the same office, but instant messages and social media (particularly social networks that are internal to the company) are excellent options.
  • Schedule check-in meetings. If it's common to schedule a weekly check-in call with a remote worker, why not extend that same courtesy to employees onsite?
  • Keep meetings distraction-free. Keeping meetings, official staff meetings or impromptu discussions, focused and on track makes the meetings more appealing and keeps them only as long as they need to be.
  • Plan multiple forms of interactions. Instead of the stuffy conference room, schedule a meeting over lunch at a local restaurant or even outdoors in a nearby park. Set aside a volunteer day working in a soup kitchen, build homes for Habitat for Humanity, or participating in a walkathon. Just as people learn differently, they also engage with each other differently.
  • Encourage working remotely. If it's feasible, encourage staff to work remotely on a regular basis. Working from home every day might not be an option, but one week each month or one day each week is probably doable in most workplaces with today's technologies.
  • Embrace coworking. Consider a corporate membership with a coworking space - particularly one that offers access to other spaces in different cities as part of its membership features. That works for allowing in-office workers to work remotely as well as for employees in other cities to still have an office space beyond their home or coffee shop.


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