Though many businesses are implementing remote work policies for the first time, the concept of working outside the office is hardly revolutionary. A wealth of work from home productivity studies have been published over the years. While most of these go into detail about the benefits of remote work, some of them also indicate that working from home has its challenges.
In this article, we’ll discuss studies that focus on the effects of work from home (WFH) policies, particularly on productivity. We’ll also mention research that explores how employees use remote work software to be more productive. Learning about these studies can help you determine if a work-from-home policy will benefit your business.
Remote work made its way into the mainstream work culture in the 1980s. The advancement of technology and an oil embargo in the 1970s created the perfect conditions for the rise of alternative work arrangements. As a result, companies like IBM began to experiment with flexible work policies, installing remote terminals in employee’s homes. These policies flourished not only at IBM but also at companies belonging to all industry sectors.
Today, the majority of remote workers–84% to be exact–work where they live. According to studies, remote workers feel that working from home improves their performance because of the convenience and the quieter work environment.
Source: Stanford UniversityDesigned by
However, that’s not to say that working from home doesn’t involve some pitfalls. For instance, 20% of remote workers stated that they had difficulties in communication and collaboration. In particular, many millennials feel that the lack of structure in a flexible work environment affects their productivity and motivation.
Given the multi-faceted effects of remote work on businesses and employees, it’s not surprising why these alternative work arrangements have been the subject of various studies over the years. Let’s take a more in-depth look at these studies and their findings.
The majority of studies and guides on working from home focus on how these work arrangements improve employee performance by boosting productivity and job satisfaction. The findings of these work from home productivity studies also document the difference between remote workers and in-office workers in terms of productivity levels.
Perhaps the most prominent study exploring productivity and work from home arrangements is one conducted by researchers from Stanford University. The study involved call center employees from Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency with 16,000 employees. To draw conclusions, the study used an experiment with a treatment group of work-from-home employees and a control group of their on-site counterparts.
This Ctrip study supports many common beliefs about the effects of WFH policies. For instance, the researchers found that home working resulted in a 13% performance increase. Specifically, this performance increase was attributed to fewer breaks and sick days and a quieter, more convenient working environment. In the long run, the impact of home working on employee performance rose to 22%.
Moreover, this collaborative research effort between Stanford University and Ctrip found that home working improved work satisfaction. The treatment group reported a higher positive attitude and less exhaustion from work. Likewise, the treatment group had less than half the attrition rate (17%) of the control group (35%).
Gig economy platform Airtasker also surveyed more than a thousand full-time employees about their productivity; more than half of the respondents worked from home. The survey’s results bear a resemblance to those from Stanford University, indicating that remote workers put in more time compared to in-office workers. According to the Airtasker survey’s results, remote workers cited only 27 minutes of unproductive time, while office workers were idle for about 37 minutes daily.
Moreover, the survey found that WFH employees worked an average of 1.4 more days monthly or 16.8 more days annually. Compared to in-office workers (51%), remote workers were also less likely (39%) to avoid working when their computer activity was being tracked.
Aside from improved productivity in remote workers, the Airtasker study also found that working from home afforded employees various benefits. For instance, remote workers were found to have saved an average of $4,253 on fuel each year. They were also healthier, as they exercised half an hour more each week compared to office workers.
Researchers from Harvard Business Review also studied employees working from home and remote workers in general. According to the study, employees working from anywhere were 4.4% more productive. Homeworkers enjoyed similar productivity gains as well.
Interestingly, the study also found that work-from-anywhere workers found ways to compensate for potential challenges in collaboration. The study says that geographically clustered (within 25 miles) remote employees with similar roles usually found ways to get together and share knowledge. This finding may prove to be comforting for managers who worried about the effectiveness of their strategies for remote team management.
You’ll also find plenty of smaller studies on the effects of WFH policies on employee productivity and satisfaction. According to the American Management Association, for instance, businesses with a telework program experienced a lower rate of unscheduled absences by 63%.
This finding is supported by a CoSo Cloud survey, which indicates that WFH employees are 52% less likely to take time off work. The study goes on to explain that employees who have learned how to work from home avoid the discouraging effects of heavy traffic and stressful office environments.
Another study by Ask.com reveals that the boost in productivity experienced by WFH employees may be a result of the fact that the majority of homeworkers don’t have to deal with distractions from other people.
Similarly, research from OWL Labs indicates that employees who work from home at least once a month are 24% more likely to be more happy and satisfied at work. This increased happiness also results in employees that are more productive.
More time with significant others%
A more positive attitude%
More physical exercise%
Source: CoSo CloudDesigned by
Compared to studies that reveal the improved productivity of WFH employees and remote workers, research that sheds light on the challenges of remote work is relatively limited. As these studies indicate, though, companies with WFH policies also face their own share of pitfalls.
Perhaps as a result of these challenges, companies like IBM and Yahoo have rescinded their remote work policies. This may be the result of the idea that proximity encourages collaborative efficiency, helping groups solve problems together.
A study published by the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal reviewed the findings of research focused on telecommuting. Many of these studies reveal the potential adverse effects of remote work. According to research mentioned in the journal, for instance, higher levels of telecommuting don’t necessarily result in higher job satisfaction. The researchers found that the satisfaction plateaus at higher frequencies of telecommuting (around 15.1 hours weekly).
Moreover, research reveals that the curve representing telecommuting and job satisfaction depends on the individual’s job. Employees with jobs of high discretion and interdependence tend to get less job satisfaction from remote work.
The analysis also mentioned studies that explored the effects of telecommuting on innovation. For instance, one study used sociometric data and found that frequent face-to-face interactions result in creativity. Findings from another study revealed the importance of a base level of face-to-face contact to effective knowledge sharing.
Additionally, remote work requires managers and supervisors to develop tips and techniques for monitoring employee behavior. According to a study published in The Psychologist-Manager Journal, coordinating interdependent tasks becomes more difficult with remote workers. Remote work may also foster a culture of fraud, in which management overlooks systematic abuses and remote workers lie about the number of hours they work.
Telecommuting may also affect how workers use communications software. One study revealed that a lack of eye contact results in unnatural communication. This is especially prevalent with video conferencing software like Skype. The problem occurs when the user often looks at the person on the screen as they talk, failing to maintain mutual eye contact.
This finding is supported by another study that compared how software developers communicate. The study found that remote workers communicated with colleagues only eight times when they encounter problems. This is significantly lower than the 38 instances of communication, on average, shared by workers in the same office.
The study by Stanford University and Ctrip reveals that home workers had a lower promotion rate. This may be due to less face time with managers and fewer opportunities for on-the-job training with more experienced coworkers and superiors. Supervisors apparently didn’t notice the remote workers’ performance as much as on-site workers.
Moreover, Airtasker found that 29% of remote workers struggled with work-life balance. The numbers get worse with millennials, as 1 in 3 millennials had difficulties balancing work and their personal life. This finding echoes the results of another study published on ScienceDirect, which says that working from home is likely to interfere with family life.
The Airtasker study also revealed that remote employees experienced high levels of stress (54%) and anxiety (45%) during the workday. This corresponds to research findings from the International Labour Office and Eurofound, which indicate that 42% of home workers from 15 countries had trouble sleeping.
A study published in Monitor on Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association, explores the future of remote work and its implications on employee performance and job satisfaction. In particular, the researchers acknowledge that certain jobs are more suitable for remote work. For instance, knowledge workers comprise a large segment of remote workers because their productivity is easier to monitor. The study also mentions that workers whose roles were complex but didn’t require significant collaboration performed better when telecommuting.
Additionally, the researchers note that various organizations are starting to use research data to create evidence-based remote work programs. Some businesses collaborate with psychologists to ensure that remote work policies address common issues, such as employee isolation.
Best practices for setting up virtual teams also now include formalizing team goals, roles, and communication methods. These techniques help foster camaraderie and teamwork, thanks to a “virtual water cooler” effect.
These work from home productivity studies provide plenty of insights into the intricacies of effective WFH policies. If you and your employees are working from home for the first time, here are some ways to ensure that you maintain productivity:
These studies can guide you on the right path towards an effective remote work policy. Nevertheless, at the end of it, it’s your honest experience that will tell you if work from home suits your company’s needs.
FinancesOnline is available for free for all business professionals interested in an efficient way to find top-notch SaaS solutions. We are able to keep our service free of charge thanks to cooperation with some of the vendors, who are willing to pay us for traffic and sales opportunities provided by our website. Please note, that FinancesOnline lists all vendors, we’re not limited only to the ones that pay us, and all software providers have an equal opportunity to get featured in our rankings and comparisons, win awards, gather user reviews, all in our effort to give you reliable advice that will enable you to make well-informed purchase decisions.