Are speed and quality really sacrificed when people work from home, as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer said to explain her new ban on telecommuting? It depends on the employee, the company and the job, so pointing to any one study to argue either way is not very useful. Intangibles such as Mayer's need to create a culture of innovation are also hard to predict or measure.
None of the studies described below can be applied to the whole American workforce, but when looked at together they tend to show that flexible working arrangements give workers higher job satisfaction and a better sense of work-life balance — and sometimes even increase productivity. Most workers in these studies telecommuted only part of the time and had some choice in how they balanced office face time with getting things done at home. Here are nine results of flexible work policies:
When Best Buy implemented a “Results-Only Work Environment” for some of its employees — allowing them flexibility in work hours and location — attrition was 45 percent lower in that group than in the control group of office workers, according to a University of Minnesota study. Workers in the ROWE group also reported reduced work-family conflict and better work-life balance.
“By showing that a policy initiative like ROWE can reduce turnover, this research moves the ‘opting out’ argument—whether one chooses family over work—from a private issue to an issue of how employers can change the workplace to better meet the needs of employees,” said one of the researchers.
People who have the option to work from home can work longer hours before experiencing work-family conflict, according to a Brigham Young University study. The researchers analyzed data from IBM employees in 75 countries and found that office workers hit a breaking point at 38 hours per week while workers given the option to telecommute could work 57 hours (two extra days!) before work interfered with family life. Eighty percent of IBM managers agreed that flexible schedules increase productivity.
Distractions at home
Even if telecommuters are clocking more hours, they may not be spending all that time on work. Just as there are distractions at the office — useless meetings, chatty coworkers, office politics and gossip — there are plenty of things at home that are more fun than working. A study conducted by Wakefield Research reported that 43 percent of telecommuters have watched TV, 35 percent have done household chores and 28 percent have cooked dinner while on the job. If you can get your work done effectively and use downtime to do things you actually want or need to do, that might be the point.
Flexible work schedules have positive effects on physical and mental health, according to a Cochrane research review. Employees who had more control over their schedules scored higher on blood pressure, sleep quality and duration and sense of well-being.
Some telecommuters actually feel more connected to their jobs despite the lack of regular office time. A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that workplace interactions and interruptions cause stress, and constant contact with colleagues doesn't help workers feel more connected to an organization. The telecommuters in the study worked from home at least three days a week.
“Teleworkers should strategically manage their connectivity in order to balance the benefits and drawbacks of communicating with others while organizations should focus on streamlining communication," said one of the researchers. "This may include limiting mass emails, diminishing the number of weekly meetings, creating information stores and fostering an environment where employees can schedule uninterrupted time to work.”
This measure was self-reported, but most Cisco workers say they are more productive when they are not in the office. Employees also reported that telecommuting results in improved work quality, better quality of life and higher job satisfaction. Interestingly, out of the time saved from telecommuting, employees spent 60 percent of the extra hours on work and took only 40 percent for personal use.
If a company allows 100 workers to work from home half the time, it can save $1.1 million a year, according to the Telework Research Network. Telecommuting cuts down on costs for real estate, building maintenance, security, furniture and other office expenses.
The 5.2 million workers who telecommute only twice a month at a minimum save 10 million barrels of oil per year, according to a study by the Mobility Choice coalition. Telecommuters also save about $7 each day in transportation costs and avoid the time and headache of an oppressive daily commute.
More trust and loyalty
Employees who are allowed to work from home are more likely to be proud of their company and trust that managers were being open and honest with them, according to a survey by the Kenexa Research Institute.
Scott Berry, a senior mutual-fund analyst at Morningstar Inc., told the Wall Street Journal that telecommuting has given him flexibility for family time — and deepened his loyalty to his company. "I always had a good perception of the firm, but obviously it enhances my perception in that they're willing to trust their employees to get their job done without any direct supervision, that they're willing to allow somebody like me to move for family reasons and not business reasons," he said.