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Are you less productive when working from home?

image By Martin Keen, IBM Redbooks Project Leader


Yahoo has been in the news recently after the company outlawed working from home, citing productivity concerns. But are work-at-home employees really less productive than their in-office counterparts? Or do advances in connectivity and collaboration make in-person meetings obsolete?


In the United States, 24 percent of employees work at least some hours at home each week. But does working from home really make you less productive?



The case against working from homeimage

Yahoo is asking all of its employees to relocate to one of its offices. The company policy states that in the interest of communication and collaboration, employees need to be working side by side. Yahoo also commented that speed and quality are often sacrificed when people work from home.


And Yahoo is not alone in preferring face-to-face collaboration. American Airlines does not allow its call center employees to work from home. Many companies in Silicon Valley offer appealing incentives to encourage employees to come to the office, including Google's cafeteria, which offers free food 24/7 to its 30,000 employees. Pixar designed a large central atrium at their campus to encourage employees to meet and have unplanned collaborations. It was even rumored that Steve Jobs wanted the atrium to house the only on-campus restrooms, to maximize traffic in the area.


Clearly many companies see great benefit in face-to-face collaboration.


Distributed employees

For companies with a few centralized campuses, requiring employees to be on site is an achievable request. For companies with a more distributed workforce, it's nearly impossible.


Currently 40 percent of IBM employees work remotely, either from home or at a client site. It's therefore not a surprise that IBM places a heavy focus on creating tools that allow employees to collaborate remotely. All 400,000-plus IBMers have an IBM Connections profile page where they can share their status, exchange files and join online communities.


So for some companies, working from home is a near necessity. But where you have a choice, which approach is best?


The CTrip experiment

CTrip, China's largest travel agency, recently undertook the first randomized experiment on working from home. Call center employees were asked to volunteer to work from home. Of the 249 qualified volunteers, half were randomly assigned to work from home four days a week, while the other half worked in the office as usual (the control group).


The experiment lasted for nine months. Who turned out to be more productive? The results were striking:

  • The performance of home workers rose dramatically, making them 13 percent more performant than their office-based colleagues. These improvements came from an increase in number of minutes worked per shift (the time they were logged in to take calls), a reduction in breaks and sick days, and an increase in the number of calls taken per minute worked.
  • Attrition dropped by 50 percent for the home workers.
  • Home workers reported higher job satisfaction and displayed a more positive attitude.
  • The one notable downside: home workers had a 50 percent reduced rate of promotion, compared to similarly performing office workers.


After the nine-month experiment concluded, CTrip estimated that it had saved about $2,000 per year per employee working from home. Unsurprisingly, CTrip rolled out the option to work from home to the entire organization.


Your opinion?

Company policies and randomized experiments aside, does the average worker feel they are more or less productive when away from the office? In a Facebook poll published on the IBM Redbooks Facebook page we asked how workers felt about their own productivity.



From over 100 responses, around one quarter felt they were most productive when working exclusively from the office. The majority (44 percent) found their most productive work was performed at home, with the rest preferring a mix of both.


Supporters of office work cited increased face-to-face collaboration with coworkers. Those preferring to work from home highlighted the lack of distractions, flexibility and time saved commuting that could be put to more productive use.


But how about you? Where do you stand on productivity when working from home?


Martin Keen is an IBM Redbooks Project Leader. He works with technical experts to create books, guides, blogs, and videos. Follow https://twitter.com/MartinRTP on Twitter.



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