The definitive science is a long way from being in, but from the pictures alone, it definitely appears that when people with office jobs do those jobs from home instead of commuting—the environment wins. Not only in America, but all over the world.
Of course, we also have entire swaths of the economy that work in “non-essential” retail and service jobs that will hopefully be going back to work soon. But even with those folks getting back on the road, the impact would still be very significant if we were able to maintain universal work-from-home as the new normal.
However, businesses exist to make money...not to become the torchbearer for environmental policy.
Could Universal Work-From-Home Work Over the Long Term?
If universal work-from-home is not a sustainable status quo from a business standpoint, the practice will quickly go back to being the occasional exception rather than the rule of the workday for most office workers. That means businesses across America will be chomping at the bit to bring their employees back to the office, where they know they’re being productive and bringing value to the company.
But we’re not hearing that right now. What we are hearing is that employees love being at home and engaging with their loved ones and pets during the daytime hours. They don’t mind trading in-person facetime with coworkers for virtual facetime. People are even reporting that they’re generally happier and that they actually feel more productive.
Those sentiments aren’t just circumstantial evidence...or the emotions of the day coming out. They’ve been echoed by hardcore academic research.
2-Year Stanford Study Showed Productivity Boost, Decreased Attrition from Work-from-Homers
In April 2017, Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Nicholas Bloom set out to prove his thesis that requiring employees to be in an office was an outdated work tradition that was no longer necessary—a relic of the Industrial Revolution from over 100 years ago.
Bloom enlisted the help of James Liang, a student in his graduate economics class, who was also the co-founder and CEO of China’s largest travel agency, Ctrip. With offices in Shanghai and over 20,000 employees, the company has a market capitalization of around $20 billion.
Liang was interested in implementing a company-wide work-from-home policy because of the exorbitant costs of their Shanghai office space and the fact that employees had to endure long commutes to work—most had the familiar problem of not being able to afford living in the city, close to work. This situation alone accounted for very high attrition levels for the company. However, before he could get buy-in, he needed some proof that a work-from-home policy would not adversely affect productivity.
Bloom created a test in which 500 employees were divided into a control group—that would continuing working in the office—and volunteer work-from-homers that met the qualifications of having a private room in their home, at least six months tenure with the company, and serviceable broadband internet access at home.
The results: “We found massive, massive improvement in performance—a 13% improvement in performance from people working at home,” Bloom said.
Bloom cited two reasons for the increase. First, the study found that work-from-homers actually worked their full shift, whereas office workers might be delayed by traffic, take a long lunch with a colleague, or leave work early for any number of reasons. The study also found that people could concentrate on their work better at home. “The office is actually an amazingly noisy environment. There’s a cake in the break room; Bob’s leaving, come join. The World Cup sweepstakes is going. Whatever it is, the office is super-distracting,” said Bloom.
Once the policy was implemented in full, resignations at the company dropped by 50%. Work-from-home employees also took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off. “Not only do the employees benefit (by working from home), but managers benefit because they can spend less of their time painfully advertising, recruiting, training, and promoting,” added Bloom.
The company also saved $2,000 per employee on rent after they were able to downsize their HQ office space. One knock on the practice did emerge: more than half of the work-from-home employees changed their minds about working from home 100% of the time because they felt too much isolation.
You can watch Bloom talk about the study and the findings in his 2017 TEDx talk.
Key to Work-from-Home Success: Having the Technology to Support Unique Business Processes
Here at Imaging Office Systems, we’ve seen plenty of companies come to us with the desire to enable a work-from-home policy, but they were worried about certain elements of their business processes not being able to translate well to a remote work infrastructure.
Those concerns are very valid. Basic work-from-home technologies—phone, email, remote server access, and video conferencing—don’t give all employees the capabilities they need to handle the full scope of their responsibilities from home.
However, we can address these concerns with a custom-designed work-from-home solution that will enable your company to translate existing business processes to a decentralized work infrastructure. Get in touch today to discuss your options!