By Joe Issid
Monster Contributing Writer
Telecommuting is not, for all intents and purposes, a new concept. Since the widespread advent of the Internet and the ubiquity of easy-to-use VPNs, people have been able to efficiently work remotely for years. But the effects of this practice are still widely unknown and often regarded with great skepticism by both employers and their employees. However, recent research has attempted to uncover some of the mysteries of what working from home can bring to an organisation and its resources.
As a small business owner, I can offer first-hand evidence of the paradigm shift that has taken place over the last decade.
Much has been written about the modern workplace and countless studies performed on how to boost productivity
without impacting attrition. But how much do we actually know about the increasing number of people who work from home (either on a part-time or full-time basis)? According to Statistics Canada, 1.8 million (11.2%) Canadian employees worked from home regularly in 2008 – up more than 10% from 2000. Similarly, 1.8 million self-employed Canadians also worked from home, but this number constituted about 60% of the total – up more than 50% since 2000.
As a self-employed Canadian
, I fall into this latter bracket. Not only do I run my small business from within the comfortable confines of my home, I also employ a small team of individuals who also work remotely. I also manage a large team of freelancers who contribute regularly to my business. The amazing fact is that I have never met a single one of these contributors in person yet they continue to contribute critical services to my business.
It isn’t surprising then that the most common reason cited by those questioned in the study, 25% in total, was that working from home was a job requirement. Clearly, the upwards-trending figures demonstrate an increased desire for companies to (at least partially) forgo the traditional workplace in lieu of remote, home-based offices. The reasons for this seem to be economically motivated: companies can save tremendous costs related to real estate by having their employees work at home. However, many companies are reluctant to do so as the perception is that there will be a sharp drop-off in productivity.
In my case, this is especially true. I actively seek employees who have previously worked from home and have demonstrated a desire to work in isolation. As I am not in a position to offer a centralised workplace, this is a hard requirement. But how do I know if my employees are being productive? Well, the truth is: I don’t. But recent studies are trying to shed some light on the matter.
According to Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics.com, most companies have no idea about the actual productivity levels of their home-based employees. James Liang, founder and chairman of Ctrip, a large Chinese travel web site, teamed up with Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economist, to answer this question and published their findings in a report published in July, 2012.
According to the report, productivity among home-based workers actually increased by 13% over the 9-month evaluation period. Of that increase, 8.5% was as a result of working more hours (ostensibly due to taking shorter breaks and fewer sick days). It can also be speculated that this increased efficiency comes as a result of not having to deal with the distractions of a bustling office environment. According to co-author Bloom: “In the office, it's very noisy, you can hear the guy next to you on the phone or the person across the desk crying because their boyfriend has just split up with them. It's horribly distracting”.
Additionally, those working from home checked in and out of work with far greater punctuality. No longer victim to the perils and negative effects of commuting
or having to deal with negative office culture
, home-based workers performed their jobs more effectively and with greater personal satisfaction.
Based on these findings, it should come as no surprise that the attrition rate of the home-based workers dropped by 50% during the 9-month trial. As an employer, these types of findings can help determine how to keep employee productivity levels high and how to possibly attract and retain better talent.
While my enterprise is too small to provide a statistically relevant conclusion, attrition levels are low and I rarely have to discipline any member of staff for failure to perform their work. With extremely affordable (often free) communication tools, it behooves small business owners to embrace the work-from-home model.
True, I certainly miss the camaraderie and human element of a physical workplace. However, the productivity and retention levels of my staff are very high and at almost no cost to me. As long as people are happy and producing quality work, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant as to where said work is being performed.
Working from home might not be for everyone. Culturally or socially certain employees may find it out of the ordinary or difficult to adapt. And that is fine, however if you consider the “pros” and alternatives that you may obtain in the long run, you may find that having a homier, quieter and more relaxed working space in the comfort of your own living room, can actually make your job easier and more enjoyable.
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