Does working from home make you less productive?

(Teleworking) Numbers Don't Lie

Yet, does telecommuting really make people more productive, or does Marissa Mayer have a point? Well, if you believe a study published in 2012 from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, then telecommuters are more productive and happier than office workers.

Stanford researchers conducted a study at a Shanghai-based company called CTrip, a Chinese travel agency that employs 16,000 workers, 249 of whom participated in the experiment. Those selected were split into a control group and a teleworking group. The researcher found that those working from home were 13 percent more productive than employees working in an office. Telecommuters worked 8.5 percent more hours, took shorter breaks and called in sick less. Moreover, researchers found a 50 percent decrease in the attrition rate among telecommuters compared to on-site workers [source: Stanford University].

The Stanford study mimics a similar study by Cisco, the technology company we just mentioned with a telecommuting policy in place. In 2008, the company conducted a survey of its nearly 2,000 employees. The majority of those who answered the survey said telecommuting allowed them to balance life and work more easily than working full time at the office. As a result, Cisco's telecommuters were happier and more productive. In addition, Cisco said, telecommuting saves the company $277 million a year. The average Cisco employee works at home two days a week. Sixty-nine percent said they were more productive when working remotely, while 83 percent said their ability to communicate with co-workers was the same, if not better, than working on-site [source: Cisco].

So, there you have it. While these are only two studies, they suggest that telecommuters are productive and happy, which leads to an increase in productivity and the company's bottom line. Still, there are drawbacks. We telecommuters are a lonely breed. There's no one to talk to face-to-face, no one to say, "Let's grab lunch." Moreover, telecommuters are always at the office. There really isn't a break [source: Greenberg].

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of organic conversations that inspire creative thinking. That's just the type of atmosphere that Google has created at its home office in Mountain View, Calif., and in other locations. Google has taken great pains to make sure its in-house employees are always interacting with one another. People get to play beach volleyball, chess and soccer. There's free food in the carefully designed cafeteria, which resembles a high school eatery. The idea is to increase casual interactions (by literally bumping into one another) among employees. Such casual conversations lead to learning and collaboration and, companies hope, innovation. Google's program has spread to other corporations, including Facebook [source: Henn].

Still, I'd rather be home working. In fact, I tell any editor who will listen to pour on the work, because I don't want to go back to an office. My commute went from three hours a day to zero. I don't mind the isolation. It gives me time to think. My dogs and cats are good company. In fact, here comes one now. Mike Moo, the black cat, just plopped his furry behind in front of the computer. Off you go! Daddy's working.

Author's Note: Does working from home make you less productive?

I'll admit that working from home has its drawbacks, but the benefits outweigh any real or perceived hardships. The biggest benefit is my lack of commute. As I said in the article, I once commuted three hours a day, by car, then train, sometimes by bus, to a job 40 miles away. On most days, it was OK, others not so much. I remember when the chemical toilets on the train backed up. I also remember that the air conditioning would go on the fritz in the summer. Not a pretty sight in either case. Hopefully, I will continue to make enough money to sustain myself. So, pile on the work. I have nothing but time, and that's really what telecommuting is all about.

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  • CNN Money. "100 Best Companies to Work For 2012: Best benefits: Telecommuting." (March 14, 2013)
  • Fottrell, Quentin. "Working from home is a dead-end job." The Wall Street Journal. March 2, 2013. (March 14, 2013)
  • Greenberg, Herb. "Working from Home: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly." CNBC. Feb. 26, 2013. (March 14, 2013)
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